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Requirements for Crew and Ice Navigators Operating on NSR

(by Karl Magnus Eger)


When applying for permission to enter the NSR, the Administration of the NSR requires a notification of the exact number of crew on board in advance, and it is the Marine Operation Headquarters’ (MOH) job to inspect the crew before they enter the NSR. The Russian legislation requires the following aspects1 :

· The size of the crew for navigation in ice must be large enough to guarantee a three-shift watch.

· The ship master or a person substituting for him on a bridge watch must know the signals that are employed by icebreakers during leading through ice and presented in the Guide to Navigation.

· The crew of the vessel must be warned in advance regarding prohibitions against discharging pollutant substances and rubbish on the NSR as well as responsibility for any pollution of the sea and ice cover.

· The ship master or a person substituting for him on a bridge watch must possess the minimum level of knowledge of navigation in ice: experience of steering vessels under ice conditions along the NSR for not less than 15 days. In the absence of such experience, the presence of an ice navigator on board the vessel is compulsory.

In addition to these requirements, the regulations also emphasize that ”(…) in cases where those persons have no such experience at least 15 days experience, the Administration/MOH may assign a State Pilot to the vessel to assist in guiding her through the NSR2 . However, there are no specific requirements for certified training of ice navigators in addition to the 15-day rule of experience along the NSR. Thus, and in light of the legislation, it is unclear on what basis the MOH determines an ice navigator’s qualification, when considering his ability to navigate in the NSR. Nor is there any requirement for certified training for the crew on board ships that operate along the NSR beyond the requirements listed above.

If a ship does not completely satisfy the requirements, it may still be allowed to navigate on the NSR with icebreaker assistance or other special support for an additional expense. Furthermore, the ship can be expelled from the NSR. Article 10 emphasize as follows:

“If a vessel navigating the NSR violates provisions of these Regulations, she can be removed from the Route. Direction in which a vessel will leave the Route shall be determined by Marine Operations Headquarters in consideration of the safety of the vessel, its crew and cargo, and necessary measures of nature protection3 .

However, according to the Head of the Administration of the NSR, the current legal regime of Arctic marine shipping in the NSR is still based on these same 1990 Regulations and the 1996 Guide to Navigation. This basic legal framework applicable to foreign shipping on the NSR has apparently not changed much up till present. Indeed, the Russian Ministry of Transport still makes many of these documents available through their official web-pages in exactly the same version as they were adopted more than ten years ago4 . In this case, it may be that the legislation requires a review of any amendment to accommodate the development of the technology and safety equipment available today.


  •  1. See the Regulations for Design, Equipment and Supply of Vessels Navigation the NSR (1996C), Art.91 to 9.5
  •  2. Guide for Navigation through the Northern Sea Route, (1996a), Art.4
  •  3. Regulations for Icebreaker-Assisted Pilotage of vessels on the NSR (1996b), Art.2.17
  •  4. www.mintrans.ru

Karl Magnus Eger, 2010, Requirements for Crew and Ice Navigators Operating on NSR, CHNL.©