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Technical Requirements for Navigation on NWP

(by Karl Magnus Eger)


Canadian maritime jurisdiction is divided into Non-Arctic waters and Arctic waters. Shipping in the NWP are primarily governed by the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, 1970 (AWPPA) and other regulations under this Act, in particular the Arctic Shipping Pollution Prevention Regulations, 1978 (ASPPR1 ). The ASPPR provides detailed requirements for ship design, construction and operation into the various zones. For example, ships over 100 gross tonnage and carrying oil in excess of 45 m3 are not allowed to navigate in any zone, unless they meet special construction standards set out in schedules to the regulations2 . In addition, no tanker is allowed to navigate in any zone without the services of a qualified ice navigator2 . However, Canada’s ability to support any shipping activity on the NWP, whether it is community re-supply, resource development or transit assistance is limited because of lack of funding for icebreaking services. This means that shipping on the NWP can be performed without icebreaker assistance.

Canada operates with a system dividing 16 shipping safety control zones (see Figure 5.2).  The system assumes that the prevailing ice conditions in each zone are consistent from one year to another. The most difficult ice conditions are expected in Zone 1 and decrease progressively, with the least in Zone 16. The zones and dates are based on historical ice data and there have been no changes to the Zone System since the implementation in the 1970s3 , despite changes in the sea ice regime.

Earliest and latest entry dates for each of the 16 shipping zones are set corresponding to the ice capability of fourteen categories of ships. The categories include nine Arctic class ships with classifications based on the ice thickness that the vessel would have the power and strength to break, and five ships types (See Appendix 5.5). For example, the most powerful Arctic Class 10 vessel could operate year round in all the zones while the least ice-capable, Type E ship, would be excluded from entering the first six zones at any time of the year as those zones have the most severe ice conditions. The types are based on the Finnish-Swedish (Baltic) rules where Type A ships can operate in thick first year ice and Type E ships are considered open water vessels with no ice strengthening4 .

As previously discussed, there are seven potential routes through the NWP with various characteristics like water depth; ice conditions; choke points etc. (see chapters 1 and 4). Nevertheless, during a transit of the NWP, ships cross a number of individual zones. The combination of the zone system, dates of entry and the main deep draft routes through the NWP will decide upon which Arctic Class to choose (See Appendix 5.4).

Figure 5.2: Shipping Safety Control 



As an illustration, and for an east to west transit (See Figure 5.2), a shallow draft ship would typically transit Davies Strait and Baffin Bay on the Greenland side where ice is less prevalent. The ship then enters Zone 13 (Lancaster Sound) and proceeds into Zone 6 (Parry Channel). At this point, a shallow draft ship follows Peel Sound and enters Zone 7 (Queen Maud Gulf) northwest of King William Island. Zone 11 is entered as the ship approaches Dease Strait. Zone 12 covers the progress of the ship from the Amundsen Gulf to the Beaufort Sea. Meantime, a deep-draft ship would continue along Parry Channel, entering Zone 2 in Viscount Melville Sound, and thence southwest along Prince of Wales Strait, before entering Zone 12 (and rejoining the shallow-draft route) in the Amundsen Gulf6 .

Variations in ice conditions can result in the Zone/Date System permitting the entry of a ship into a zone where known ice conditions are too harsh for the ships. This resulted in the creation of an Arctic Ice Regime Shipping System (AIRSS) in 1996, as a regulatory standard. AIRSS provides the master and ice navigator with a formula to calculate an Ice Numeral based on known ice conditions in the zone and the ice classification of the vessel. If the Ice Numeral is positive then the ship may proceed. If negative, entry is not permitted. AIRSS uses a ship classification system based on Canadian Arctic Class (CAC), in addition to the 14 categories of ships related to the various zones (See Appendix 5.4).  Although AIRSS has the potential to replace the Zone/Date System, it is generally used to allow access to a zone outside of the proscribed entry dates. As an example, over the last summer seasons AIRSS was used to permit access of the tanker Tuvaq into Kugaaruk (Zone 5). Under the Zone/Date System a tanker of the Tuvaq’s ice class would not have been permitted at any time6 .

However, it is a problem that there are a set of multiple rules both for the NWP, but also among the international classification societies7 . Canada wants to take leadership in the future harmonization process and has, recently, adopted the IACS/IMO polar class rules into their own regulations. In addition she encourages other countries to do the same. This means that the CAC system will be outdated in the future7 .


  •  1. 28. AWPPA (1970). Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, Canada 1970
  •  2. 27. ASPPR (1978). Arctic Shipping Pollution Prevention Regulations, Canada 1978
  •  3. 323. Transport Canada: http://www.tc.gc.ca/marinesafety/debs/arctic/acts-regulations/images/zones2.JPG
  •  4. 240. Van der Zwaag, D.L. (ed.) (2008), Governance of Arctic Marine Shipping. Marine & Environmental Law Institute, Dalhousie University, Halifax, October 2008.
  •  5. Source: Transport Canada
  •  6. 56. CASA (2007), Canadian Arctic Shipping Assessment, By The Mainport Group Ltd. for Transport Canada, June 2007
  •  7. 346. Interviews/Conversations: Transport Canada, 09 & 15 January (2010)

Karl Magnus Eger, 2010, Technical Requirements for Navigation on NWP, CHNL.©