As is obvious from the travel supplements in daily newspapers, cruise operators are working furiously to fill their ships. Global recessions and the booking “blip” after the Costa Concordia have seen profits plummet, while new tonnage emerging from the shipyards has produced a multiplicity of new berths to which the potential holidaymaker must be attracted.

And the attractions are considerable, with prices at bargain basement levels, along with new and exciting destinations designed to appeal to those who find traditional cruising grounds something of a bore.

Among these areas are Polar waters, where cruise passengers are promised a very different and “unique” sort of holiday in the amazing environments to be found at the northern and southern extremities. And while some of these trips are advertised on specialist, ice-strengthened vessels designed for harsh climates, many others are aboard perfectly conventional cruise ships, some of considerable size.

This is a good reason for “prompt and timely” realisation of the Polar Code, which has a range of important measures designed to address the safety of these ships sailing into waters where external help may be limited and hazards plentiful. BIMCO has worked closely with the Danish Government in this area and a paper on the subject was jointly presented to the International Maritime Organization pointing out that this needs urgent attention.

The Polar Code has been developed because it has been recognised that the industry cannot wait until there is a serious accident in Polar waters before sharpening up its regulatory oversight on such matters. Such a disaster would be utterly unacceptable. The authors of the BIMCO/Danish submission also employed AIS information to provide an accurate picture showing that cruise voyages to high northern latitudes around Greenland increased between 2010 and 2011, in a trend which shows no sign of changing.

It also notes that there is an increase in the number of conventional cruise ships without ice strengthening and moreover, in the size of many of the ships, with a growing proportion carrying more than 1,000 passengers. There are also environmental considerations which cannot be forgotten, with any form of pollution in pristine cold water areas regarded as completely unacceptable.

The Code provides a range of sensible operational and design features which would enhance the safety of ships operating in areas where there are very limited search and rescue facilities. It also recognises that navigation in such areas demand skills sets that are different from “normal” navigation and that arrangements must be made to anticipate and prepare for accidents and the provision of external assistance.

BIMCO and the Danish Government have called for the matter to be treated with a degree of urgency, suggesting (not least in the climate of opinion following the Italian cruise ship disaster) that environmental issues should not be allowed to delay the safety elements of the Code, which could be rapidly be brought into effect.

Author: The Watchkeeper                              Source: BIMCO