27 March 2014
Opening a new page in Arctic collaboration
Canada was freezing. When I arrived at Yellowknife in the evening of 26 March 2014, the ground temperature was minus seventeen Celsius. I was greeted by personnel from the Circumpolar Affairs Division of the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department.
The Arctic Council Senior Arctic Officials meeting had already finished its second day and I was invited to join in the social events organized in a snow castle created on the frozen lake. The castle, built for the annual Snow King festival, is made entirely of ice except for the transparent tent-like ceiling built on its thick ice walls, designed to use light from the sky to illuminate the interior. Inside the castle, there is a hall that easily accommodates 100 people and here the meeting participants were enjoying live music played by local people.
After the music, there was a fashion show, with beautiful coats and dresses made from local materials on display. Although I was well protected by my heavy-duty out-door down jacket, which I had used in Antarctica, by the end my feet were nearly frozen by the ice floor of the frozen lake. The temperature inside the castle must have been below minus twenty.
After the events in the castle, we were taken to a restaurant bar for dinner, where a powerful band prompted dancing – as much as anything, to warm our frozen bodies! Having made my contribution to the whirl of dancers, I sneaked out from the warmth of the social gathering to prepare for my speech, arranged for 9 o’clock the following morning, and to recover from my jet lag.
The following day, Thursday, 27 March 2014, I spoke to the meeting on the current status of development of the mandatory Polar Code that is in the final stages of preparation at IMO. It is expected to be adopted before the end of this year, and to become effective at the beginning of 2017.
My main message was that, although the Polar Code could be adopted soon, further work will be necessary in order to ensure its proper implementation and to establish a support system, such as infrastructure development including navigational charts, search and rescue arrangements and pollution preparedness. I stated clearly that, in the coming years, IMO and the Arctic Council must work together for further cooperation and collaboration. The text of my speech will be posted on the IMO website (www.imo.org).
The current Director of the Arctic Council Secretariat is Magnús Jóhannesson of Iceland. I have worked closely with him in the past, when I was the Administrative Secretary of the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) and he was a delegate from Iceland to IMO meetings. He is a strong supporter of IMO and I was pleased that he was in his current role when I approached the Arctic Council to explore meaningful collaboration. I am sure that, together, we can strengthen future cooperation between IMO and the Arctic Council in the field of navigation and maritime activities in the Arctic Ocean.
This mission to the Senior Arctic Officials meeting was important for IMO. I have made engagement with the Arctic Council an important priority since I took up my role as Secretary-General in 2012 and have put considerable time and effort into it. I approached the Arctic Council to seek my participation in its official meetings before we adopt the Polar Code, because I believe it is essential for the wider maritime community to closely engage with the Arctic Council.
While approaching the Arctic Council, I spoke to the Government of the Russian Federation about the possibility of experiencing navigation in the Northern Sea Route at first hand. I am really grateful to the Russian Government for arranging my voyage in Arctic waters last summer and for the substantial support they provided. I was also invited to experience winter navigation in the Gulf of Finland, by the Government of Finland. I am grateful to numerous supporters within the Arctic Council member States and I am truly appreciative of the kind formal invitation by the current Chair of the Arctic Council, Ms. Leona Aglukkaq , Minister of the Environment, Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and Minister for the Arctic Council, with whom I have a planned meeting, on 28 March, in Ottawa.
I think that my mission marks a significant step forward and, from the responses of the Senior Officials at the meeting, I think we have effectively opened a new page of collaboration and cooperation between IMO and the Arctic Council.
Koji Sekimizu, Ottawa