Shipping in the Arctic

Learn about shipping in the Arctic.

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The Minister of Transport Canada is responsible for the review of projects related to shipping in the Arctic. Project components and activities will be required to be carried out according to applicable legislation and regulations within the Department of Transport Canada's mandate. Ships intending to operate within Canadian Arctic waters are subject to certain unique requirements in addition to those common to vessels operating elsewhere in Canada. The nature of these additional requirements vary based on ship type, ship size, area of operation, or the activity in which the ship is engaged. The Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act and its associated regulations establish these requirements.

The Arctic Shipping Safety and Pollution Prevention Regulations contain a range of safety and pollution prevention requirements that address the unique risks confronted by ships operating in Canada's Arctic. The regulations incorporate the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), with the addition of Canadian modifications to ensure that strict safety measures and discharge requirements are maintained.

The Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone Regulations require vessels operating in the Canadian Arctic with a gross tonnage (GT) of 300 tonnes or more, as well as vessels carrying a pollutant or dangerous good as cargo and vessels engaged in towing operations with a combined GT of 500 tonnes or more, to report identity, position and destination information to the Canadian Coast Guard. This is to enhance the safety and movement of traffic and prevent pollution of Arctic waters by establishing monitoring vessels in Arctic waters.

All ships operating in Canadian Arctic waters are subject to various date-related entry and exit requirements for those waters. The Zone Date System is based on historical ice conditions and a ship's ice class. Ship owners planning to operate outside of this prescriptive system have the option of using either the Arctic Ice Regime Shipping System (AIRSS) or the Polar Operational Limit Assessment Risk Indexing System (POLARIS). Both AIRSS and POLARIS are used to determine the operational risk based on a ship's ice class and the prevailing ice conditions observed from the ship's bridge.

Ships using either AIRSS or POLARIS risk assessments must also provide both the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada with the intended route, anticipated ice regimes, crew certifications, and the names and certificates of the ship's master and, if applicable, the ice navigator. Canada requires that an ice navigator, a certified individual with experience operating in ice conditions, be present onboard ships under 500 GT that intend to operate outside of the Zone Date System.

In advance of a planned vessel transit within the Canadian waters, both Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard work collaboratively to engage the ship's master or authorized representative (in certain cases up to a year in advance) to advise on the required regulatory requirements.

Transport Canada maintains Duty Officers available 24/7, tasked with monitoring Canadian Arctic shipping on a daily basis. Transport Canada Duty Officers conduct monitoring compliance of the vessels in conjunction with the Canadian Coast Guard and take enforcement action when necessary.

Marine Transportation: Safety and Security

In the Arctic, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, the Marine Liability Act, the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, and the Marine Transportation Security Act, including subtending regulations, combine to provide Canada's operational regulatory regime governing marine safety, security, and environmental protection matters. Transport Canada Marine Safety and Security administers and enforces these acts and regulations.

Transport Canada is the lead federal department that regulates shipping. Other federal agencies and departments, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard and Environment and Climate Change Canada, have distinct but interrelated responsibilities for the management of marine transportation safety and environmental protection. Transport Canada works with these federal agencies and departments to establish the regulatory framework and mechanisms which provide a coherent and consistent approach to marine transportation safety and environmental protection. This appendix discusses the legislation which Transport Canada enforces to help ensure that marine transportation is safe, secure and environmentally responsible.

Canada Shipping Act, 2001

The Canada Shipping Act, 2001 (CSA) provides an overall regime to protect the safety and the environment for vessels operating in waters under Canadian jurisdiction. Its regulations include requirements for a vessel's construction, ballast water management, pollution control, arrangements for emergency response, and crew qualifications. Pollution response and prevention measures apply in respect of vessels in Canadian waters or waters in Canada's exclusive economic zone.

Transport Canada is the lead federal regulatory agency responsible for the National Marine Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime. Part 9 of the CSA, 2001, sets controls to prevent pollution and to manage ballast water from ships. Under this part, the Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals Regulations set standards for vessel construction and onboard management to prevent pollution from oil, hazardous chemicals, sewage, garbage and air emissions.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act

The Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act (AWPPA) provides enhanced environmental protection with respect to vessels operating in waters north of 60°N latitude under Canadian jurisdiction. Canada has developed new regulations, the Arctic Shipping Safety and Pollution Prevention Regulations that incorporate the Polar Code, with the addition of specific Canadian modifications designed to provide clarity on discharge requirements for the prevention of pollution by oil, by sewage, and by garbage from vessels, as well as the control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk.

While the provisions of the CSA, 2001 and its associated regulations apply in all Canadian waters, vessels in Arctic waters north of 60° North and out to the 200 nautical mile limit of Canada's Exclusive Economic Zone are also subject to the provisions of the AWPPA. The Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Regulations include a civil liability regime for vessels to ensure there is insurance coverage for damages should deposits of wastes occur.

Marine Liability Act

The Marine Liability Act (MLA) covers liability of ship owners and vessel operators in relation to passengers, cargo, pollution and property damage, and is based on the 'polluter pays' principle. The MLA requires that vessels operating in waters under Canadian jurisdiction carry insurance for damages from oil spills. Ship owners may also access oil industry-funded domestic or international compensation funds to pay for cleanup and compensation costs.

Marine Transportation Security Act

The Marine Transportation Security Act (MTSA) is intended to protect and preserve the efficiency of Canada's marine transportation system against unlawful interference. It applies to vessels and marine facilities in Canada, Canadian vessels outside of Canada and to marine installations and structures. The MTSA provides the Minister of Transport with authority to create regulations, security measures and rules to protect the security of Canada's marine transportation system.

The department helps the industry achieve compliance with marine security legislation and regulations through awareness, certification, inspection, and enforcement and allows ports, marine facilities and vessels to implement the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code through the Marine Transportation Security Regulations.

Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services

The Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone, referred to as the NORDREG Zone, was established by the Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone Regulations (NORDREG). It is administered by the Canadian Coast Guard's Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre located at Iqaluit, Nunavut. Marine traffic through Canada's North must abide by ship reporting procedures. NORDREG sets the criteria for Northern ship traffic and the geographic zones to which they apply. Ice operations support in NORDREG waterways is provided by the Canadian Coast Guard.

Established under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, these regulations apply to vessels which meet the following criteria:

The NORDREG Zone encompasses all of Canada's Arctic waters, including shipping safety control zones prescribed by the Shipping Safety Control Zones Order and the following bodies of water:

National Aerial Surveillance Program

Through the National Aerial Surveillance Program (NASP), Transport Canada provides aerial surveillance over Canadian waters. Regular aerial surveillance flights occur through this program and have contributed significantly to the decrease in oil discharges at sea, as ships are increasingly aware that polluting activities can be detected.

NASP and Environment and Climate Change Canada's Ice Services program work together to monitor ice conditions along Arctic waterways and look for evidence of pollution. The Canadian Coast Guard is the lead agency responsible for ensuring an appropriate response to ship-source and mystery pollution incidents in Canadian waters, including in the Arctic.

If a polluter is unable or unwilling to respond to a spill, or is unknown, the Canadian Coast Guard will assume command of the situation and use its environmental response and incident management regimes to effectively and efficiently manage an appropriate response. Transport Canada conducts compliance inspections of these marine incidents and takes appropriate enforcement action as required.

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