Arctic Shipping Issues

Arctic Issues

An orange boat accentuated by the blue water and bright white ice berg

Photo 6: An orange boat accentuated by the blue water and bright white ice berg.
(NOAA Photo Library)

In light of the recent reductions of Arctic sea ice, the volume of ship traffic in the Arctic Ocean will almost certainly increase over the coming century. This anticipated increase in shipping may have serious environmental consequences because much of the Arctic marine environment is a relatively pristine area, yet highly vulnerable to disturbance and pollution due to the changes in the Arctic sea ice and the generally sensitive nature of the Arctic marine ecosystem. Potential impacts from shipping include: the release of oil through accidental or illegal discharge, ship strikes on marine mammals, the introduction of alien species, disruption of migratory patterns of marine mammals, increased anthropogenic noise and increased atmospheric emissions. The Arctic Council recently released the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment which examines many of these issues and suggests possible measures that may be used to address them. The 2009 U.S. National Security Directive on Arctic Region Policy outlines the U.S. position on these issues.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the primary international body that regulates international shipping. The Arctic Council, primarily through the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) working group has become more active in attempting to anticipate and monitor the impacts of shipping on the Arctic marine environment. Within the overarching framework of the 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC), these bodies have adopted guidelines including:

In addition, many broader international agreements also apply to Arctic shipping, including the following IMO conventions (Summaries):