International shipping code delayed

An international 'Polar Code' for ships in the Arctic is taking longer to draft than expected. The code would set rules for ships travelling in Arctic waters.

'Polar Code' taking International Maritime Organization longer to draft than expected

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent makes its way through the ice in Baffin Bay, Thursday, July 10, 2008. A new polar code would see rules set for ships passing through the region. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

An international agreement on safe Arctic shipping has been delayed.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is trying to develop the 'Polar Code' – a set of regulations for ships travelling through Arctic waters.

The IMO was aiming to have it ready this year, but drafting the code is taking longer than expected.

Some environmentalists say the lack of a code leaves the Arctic at risk. 

"The need to increase the regulation of shipping … is directly proportional to the increase in shipping traffic," said Martin von Mirbach from the World Wildlife Fund.

He says the sooner there is a 'Polar Code', the better. The code would be a binding set of international rules for the design and operation of commercial ships in the Arctic.  

He describes the Arctic now as a sort of ‘Wild West’ for shipping companies.

"Without any adequate regulation, that becomes a very attractive shortcut. It may be a good shortcut, but there shouldn’t be a shortcut when it comes to the safety and environmental safeguards," he said.

The organization says the code won’t be in place until 2013 at the earliest.

Dr. Oran Young studies Arctic governance at the University of California.

"My guess is that another year will not make a huge difference. Another three to five years would be a source of serious concern," he said.

Young says for IMO nations like Canada and the United States, the challenge is balancing environmental interests with shipping interests.