Monday, 14 March 2011

Arctic Navigational Warning System on schedule

The IMO Sub-Committee on Radiocommunications, Search and Rescue, marked at a ceremony recently the expansion of the World-Wide Navigational Warning System (WWNWS) into Arctic waters. Attended by the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), Mr. Michel Jarraud, the President of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), Admiral Alexandros Maratos, and IMO Secretary-General, Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, the celebration of the expansion of the WWNWS means that vessels operating in dangerous Arctic waters will receive vital information about navigational and meteorological hazards and other urgent information automatically and in real time.

Underlining the critical need for the WWNWS expansion, Secretary-General Mitropoulos said at the event, , “The potential for accidents and for causing environmental harm through operational mishaps in the Arctic is rising, while the effectiveness of search and rescue services and clean-up resources is inevitably stretched to the limit.”

Five new NAVAREAs and Meteorological areas have been added to buttress the existing system that was initially established by a joint IMO-collaboration in the late 1970s. This had, so far, oceans divided into l6 NAVAREAs, with one designated country in each area responsible for disseminating navigational information. METAREAs, with identical limits, were also constituted. By 2005, however, with Arctic waters getting accessible thanks to global warming, it became obvious that a similar service was needed in the hitherto frozen north. Environmental concerns and navigational safety considerations, added to the harsh and unpredictable weather in the Arctic and combined with a scarcity of emergency resources there, all added up to increased risk and potential for accidents and environmental harm.

In order to maximize operational safety and minimize environmental damage, the expanded WWNWS, established since June last year, is currently in an “Initial Operational Capability” phase with a transition to “Full Operational Capability” expected in June 2011. Responsibility for Arctic NAVAREA Coordinators and the METAREA Issuing Services has been assumed by Canada, Norway and the Russian Federation (NAVAREA/METAREA XVII – Canada; NAVAREA/METAREA XVIII – Canada; NAVAREA/METAREA XIX – Norway; NAVAREA/METAREA XX- Russian Federation; NAVAREA/METAREA XXI – Russian Federation).

WMO Secretary General Jaraud pointed out that sea ice is projected to increasingly shrink under all scenarios. “For some projections the Arctic late-summer sea ice would vanish almost entirely by the middle of the century, opening unprecedented challenges to maritime safety which were unpredictable just one generation ago. With the establishment of these NAVAREAS the world is fully provided with services to provide navigational and meteorological warnings to mariners. We can now say that the WWNWS that started in the early 1970’s is complete”.

Mr Mitropoulos, while hailing the new initiative, nevertheless sounded a note of caution. “The opening up of the Arctic will be a double-edged sword. Depending on your perspective, it represents either a world of new business opportunities or, on the other hand, an unwelcome extension of the human footprint into areas still, at the moment, predominantly pristine. But I am confident that, balancing the two extremes and with measures such as those we inaugurate today, the pioneering venture in the new frontiers will be met with universal approval. Let us, therefore, work together to create the conditions that will allow the opportunities the Arctic presents to flourish in a framework of utter safety and environmental protection,” he said.


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