Thus, ecosystem change on the shallow shelves of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas is likely to be directly connected to systems further to the north.

POTENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA, 2005), a major multinational compilation of information, concluded that reduced sea-ice extent will pose new challenges for the Arctic environment because increased human presence in the Arctic Ocean is highly likely. When historically closed passages become open to navigation, increased marine transport and improved access to resources are expected. It is further expected that questions regarding sovereignty over shipping routes and seabed resources, as well as issues of security and safety, will arise (ACIA, 2005). Potential conflicts among competing users of Arctic waterways and coastal seas, for example, in the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage are likely. Commercial fishing and sealing, hunting of marine wildlife by indigenous people, tourism, and shipping all compete for use of the narrow straits of these waterways, which are also the preferred routes for marine mammal migration.

Global crude oil prices are currently at historic highs and projected to continue at present levels (Garfield, 2005.). This has led to increased exploration and development budgets for the oil industry and to the development of oil fields in more challenging environments. The Arctic is one of the major areas in which increased oil exploration and development are occurring. Price increases for basic commodities are not limited to crude oil, which is spurring increasing investments in gas exploration and development as well as other commodities.

Ships operating in the Arctic environment are exposed to a number of unique risks. Poor weather conditions and the relative lack of reliable charts, underdeveloped communication systems, and insufficient navigational aids pose challenges for mariners. The remoteness of Arctic areas makes rescue or cleanup operations difficult and costly. Cold temperatures may reduce the effectiveness of numerous components of the ship, ranging from deck machinery to emergency equipment. When ice is present, it can impose additional loads on the hull, propulsion system, and appendages.

Safe navigation in any area depends on accurate knowledge of hydrographic data. Unfortunately, these data, as well as standard aids to navigation (e.g., channel marking buoys) are lacking along much of the Arctic shipping lanes. For example, the Russian Ministry of Transport’s Federal State Unitary Hydrographic Department, responsible for mapping the hydrographic details of the Northern Sea Route, reports that the mapping along the Northern Sea Route is “far from finished” (Garfield, 2005). Similarly, the hydrographic charts for the Northwest Passage are incomplete. The Canadian Hydrographic Service reports that although Canadian charts in the Arctic are generally adequate for navigation in most traffic corridors, there are significant unsurveyed areas within the limits of many charts and many charts exist that do not meet modern Canadian Hydrographic Service standards.

In addition, unique Arctic conditions require supplementary operational guidelines to account for the operating environment. Recognizing the need for recommendatory provisions applicable to ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters, additional to the mandatory and recommendatory provisions contained in existing instruments, several organizations2 have developed guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters. It should be noted, however, that these guidelines are simply recommendatory and that the wordings are commonly interpreted as providing recommendations rather than mandatory direction. On the other hand, Part XII, section 8, Article 234 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), specifically allows coastal nations to adopt and enforce rules for vessels operating in ice-infested waters in their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or territorial sea in order to prevent and protect against marine pollution and similar environmental accidents.

Concerns about the increasing commercial activities in the Arctic region led the Arctic Council to issue a declaration in 2002,3 which stated that the existing and emerging activities in the Arctic warrant a more coordinated and integrated strategic approach to address the challenges of the Arctic coastal and marine environment. The declaration further stated that the Arctic Council agreed to develop a strategic plan for the protection of the Arctic marine environment under the leadership of its Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) working group. The Arctic marine strategic plan established the following four goals: (1) reduce and prevent pollution in the Arctic marine environment; (2) conserve Arctic marine biodiversity and ecosystem functions; (3) promote the health and prosperity of all Arctic inhabitants; and (4) advance sustainable Arctic marine resource use.

With increased marine access in Arctic coastal areas— shipping, offshore development, fishing, and other uses— and the apparent lack of strict operational guidelines and aids to navigation, national and regional governments will be called upon to revise and to develop new national and

2

The International Maritime Organization adopted the Guidelines for Ships Operating in Arctic Ice-covered Waters. BIMCO (Baltic and International Maritime Council) published the BIMCO Ice Handbook—a quick reference manual that includes a “Captain’s Checklist” that “should be readily available to anyone involved in chartering before they direct a vessel into waters where ice may be present at the time of call.” The Artic Council’s working group on the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) published Guidelines for Transfer of Refined Oil and Oil Products in Arctic Waters (TROOP) (PAME, 2004).

3

Declaration was issued by the Ministers at the Third Arctic Council Meeting in Finland, October 2002.



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