Polar Code – New report calls contingency plans into question | Polarjournal
Rescue operations on Spitsbergen mostly involve helicopters.(Photo: Eirik Helland Urke)

According to International Polar Code, passengers on ships in Arctic waters must be able to survive for at least five days waters must be able to survive for at least five days after an incident before being rescued. they are rescued. So-called Time To Rescue (TTR) or rescue time. Although the rescue time of five days is specified as a minimum in the Polar Code, in practice the certifications in practice show that only a few shipping companies allow more time. allow more time.

On Spitsbergen, two rescue helicopters are stationed in Longyearbyen. Here we also see the governor ship “Polarsyssel” at the ice edge. (Photo: Eirik Helland Urke)

The problem is that there is no industry practice for actual rescue time in different different scenarios. It is not even clearly defined what it means to be means to be “saved. Some believe that the first helicopter arrives, whereas in practice it can take many days to evacuate a large cruise ship and get all the passengers to safety, Knut Espen Solberg tells Teknisk Ukeblad.

This fall, Solberg is publishing a scientific paper on the rescue times in the Arctic. Theoretical data models are used here, to calculate the rescue time for different scenarios. The preliminary calculations show that the rescue time increases significantly for large numbers of passengers. One of the models shows that the evacuation of 3000 people by helicopter can take up to seven days. This requires sufficient crew and a 24-hour helicopter operation, among other things. Events like Viking Sky show that such mass evacuations are a very realistic scenario. Some of the ships coming to Longyearbyen have double the capacity, for example the MSC Preziosa with 6,000 passengers and crew.



The MSC “Preziosa” in the port of Longyearbyen. Evacuating 6,000 people in an emergency is likely to be a real challenge. (Photo: Bjørn Frantzen)

The does not necessarily mean that the evacuation of 6,000 people will take 14 days. Gradually, other moments are added, such as leaving the mainland. However, even in practice, the probability of survival is reduced significantly reduced over time and they are exposed to the forces of nature, Solberg emphasizes.

The Governor manages two rescue helicopters on Svalbard, which this summer have been doing summer have been doing a particularly large amount of mass evacuation training (Mass Rescue Operation – MRO). In June, 139 passengers and three stretchers were taken off from the French cruise ship “L’Austral”. Later 60 passengers were picked up by the Hurtigruten ship “Fram” and brought ashore with a polar bear guard.

Deputy governor, Espen Olsen, plays a central role in the emergency response on Spitsbergen. He is also very concerned about the time aspect of a rescue operation. (Photo: Eirik Helland Urke)

In the Arctic climate as on Spitsbergen, time is always of the essence for survival. A rescue operation is not over even when the evacuees have been transferred ashore. Without the necessary equipment or expertise, many of them are them very vulnerable to the effects of weather and wind, Espen Olsen tells to TU.

Both Olsen and Solberg were the focus of the SarEx exercises in Svalbard, where the conditions of the Polar Code were tested in practice.

The exercises showed that much of today’s rescue equipment is marginally capable of keeping people alive for five days, even under optimal conditions and with well-trained rescuers. (Photo: Eirik Helland Urke)

In practice, a lot of conditions influence the rescue time, not least the weather and distances. On Svalbard and in the Arctic in general there is no guarantee that these are factors that play a role in rescue operations. rescue operations play a role. Access to rescue resources is also limited and far from designed to handle incidents for the largest ships designed.

Solberg’s scientific models are based on a series of fixed assumptions, so that the search for the vessel does not take unnecessary time and helicopters and other standing resources are available. This is not necessarily the case even in a real event.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations based in London. It has 173 full members, as well as the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao of the People’s Republic of China, and the Faroe Islands, which belong to Denmark under constitutional law, as associate members. The Federal Republic of Germany joined the IMO on January 7, 1959.

Recommended Measures

Solberg states that most rescue platforms (such as boats and helicopters) will in most cases shorten the rescue time. An essential measure to rescue of hundreds of people is the establishment of a safe area nearby to which evacuation can take place. On Svalbard, it will include. protection from the forces of nature and the polar bear watch, and will also require food and equipment. One possible measure could be to dispatch tents and equipment already be sent with the first rescue helicopter together with personnel.

The establishment of increasingly large fuel storage facilities on Svalbard and the surrounding area is also considered a very important measure. There are already such depots on the archipelago, but the capacity is limited.

Ships with hundreds of passengers can expect several days of rescue time, not just hours, Solberg says in the preliminary report. The rescue time increases significantly depending on the number of passengers on board. A longer helicopter support is not expected.

The report also addresses a practice in which two and two vessels sail close to each other, but points out that this requires both special equipment as well as trained crews – and in any case will only work in calm seas.

Governor Espen Olsen believes that the final report should be used for further efforts to strengthen the rescue service in Spitsbergen.

In the In the event of a major operation, there will be a clear challenge if the mission requires more than Svalbard normally provides. After a while there will be many and very capable reinforcements, but in the early stages we will have to rely on the resources permanently stationed on Svalbard. I think it is important to understand that in case of serious incidents in Svalbard, the entire community needs to be mobilized,” Espen Olsen tells TU.

Safety at sea is always demanding, but Arctic waters have a a number of additional challenges that are receiving increased attention.

Recently the ship “Malmö” with 16 passengers and seven crew was trapped by pack ice in the Hinlopen Strait. The 16 passengers were evacuated to Longyearbyen by helicopter, while the crew was eventually picked up with the ship by the coast guard ship “Svalbard”. The Coast Guard vessel had then broken a channel in the ice in which the “Malmö” could follow.

Further crews are now working to salvage the fishing vessel “Northguider” that capsized in winter. It is a fight against time and the beginning of winter. The rescue operation will last several weeks. Moreover the days are getting shorter and soon darkness of the polar night will make salvaging more difficult.

As the lines on the map show, there is considerable shipping traffic around Spitsbergen in a year. (Photo: Marine Traffic)

Polar Code

The International Polar Code was developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and is intended to ensure that ships sailing in the region are prepared for what they may encounter.

Norway was one of the main drivers in the entry into force of the International Polar Code as a set of regulations for passenger ships with international certificates for transport in polar regions – both in the Arctic and Antarctic. The code consists of two main parts: a safety part and an environment part.

Parts of the Polar Code are in compliance with the International Convention for the Safety of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and impose significant requirements on the equipment of ships to cope with emergencies. An important point is, that passengers should be able to survive without assistance for five days after an evacuation.

“I think it’s crucial that those who need help have the opportunity to cope independently for as long as possible. Then, in addition to early response, emergency responders will have the possibility of mobilizing reinforcements and continuously replenishing them with the necessary resources. It’s mainly about buying time. If you can get evacuated cruise passengers to a permanent place with shelter and warmth, a lot is done, says deputy Chief of Staff Espen Olsen to TU.

New Regulations

Today the Polar Code applies only to ships with an international SOLAS certificate, in practice, the largest ships. From the new year, however, large parts of the Polar Code will also apply to smaller passenger ships flying the Norwegian flag, when new official regulations come into force.

The regulations set a minimum technical standard for the passenger vessels sailing around Svalbard. Today, some older ships on Spitsbergen Spitsbergen do not follow this standard, like “Nordstjernen” and “Langøysund”. These are very active during the summer season, often with very experienced crews underway.

The new requirements will, in practice, put an end to some of these vessels and it will hardly pay off to upgrade them adequately. Existing ships in the region now have a transition period of five years.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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