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The Role of Ports in International Maritime Law

(from AMSA Report 2009)


Port state control could play an important role in promoting maritime safety and marine environmental protection in the Arctic. A global network of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) on port state control among national maritime authorities provides a systemic ship inspection approach to ensure compliance with international standards on ship safety, labor, training and pollution prevention such as SOLAS, COLREGS, MARPOL 73/78 and STCW. The inspection data is centralized in databases to which member authorities have access, and is used to track the compliance of a particular ship and the record of violations by flag. The Paris MOU among European maritime authorities is potentially relevant for ships navigating within the Arctic Circle. The maritime authorities of the Arctic Council states, except for the United States, are parties to the Paris MOU. The United States administers its own port state control system, but has cooperating observer status with the Paris MOU.

Regional maritime authorities in the Arctic may wish to consider whether existing MOUs are sufficient to enforce higher regulatory safety and environmental standards applicable to the Arctic or to coordinate port state control enforcement efforts through a new dedicated MOU. Arctic states would need to consider what uniform standards would be enforced through port state control. Currently, only Canada and the Russian Federation have designated national safety and environmental standards for navigation in their Arctic waters separately from international standards adopted under the auspices of the IMO, including the Arctic Guidelines. The Russian Federation employs a ship inspection system for passage through the Northern Sea Route. Canada requires that ships comply with the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act and regulates construction and other standards before navigating in Arctic waters, and inspects for this purpose.

Ports and maritime authorities also play a role in the international maritime security regime. In 2002, the IMO introduced the mandatory International Ship and Port Facilities Security Code (ISPS Code), which is linked to chapter XI-2 of the SOLAS Convention, for all commercial vessels over 500 gross tonnage engaged in international trade, as well as mobile offshore drilling units. Public and private ports and terminals must be secure, and ships may be required to provide notice and information to the maritime authorities of the host state. For example, Canada and the United States have advance notice of arrival requirements for ships that vary with the duration of the voyage. Certificates are issued to ships, companies and ports and security plans are subject to periodic audit. Arctic ports and terminals require a risk assessment followed by adoption of security plans to comply with the ISPS Code. Ships engaged in cargo operations, support services or cruises in the Arctic have to comply with the ISPS Code and cooperate with port and terminal security. In areas under their jurisdiction and in accordance with UNCLOS, Arctic coastal states should have ship control procedures in place, as well as a secure system of assessing threats and sharing intelligence among law enforcement agencies.


  •  1. Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment Report 2009

Arctic Council, 2009, Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), Arctic Council.©