The UN International Maritime Organisation will create the first-ever mandatory safety and environmental regulations for the Northern Sea Route by revising relevant conventions, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
The London-based organisation decided to formulate international rules for maritime traffic because the number of ships using the route has surged, as global warming has been causing ice in the Arctic Ocean to melt.
The new regulations are expected to take effect in 2016.
Currently, no international laws have been established for the Arctic Ocean like those in the Antarctic Treaty, which dictates that nations not make territorial sovereignty or other claims.
There have also been concerns that coastal nations such as Russia may implement their own regulations.
The number of ships using the Northern Sea Route drastically increased from four in 2010 to 71 in 2013.
With rising fear of environmental destruction caused by discharged water and oil in the event of an accident, some form of regulation was urgently needed.
To address safety, the IMO will revise the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. The revised convention will require ships to be constructed with shell plating thicker than those of regular vessels so that their hulls can withstand collisions with ice.
Ships must also be designed to avoid top-heaviness and prevent listing if ice accumulates on the upper decks. Other requirements include equipping vessels with special radars for ice as well as antifreezing devices.
To create environmental regulations, the IMO will revise the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.
The revised convention will totally ban the discharge into the sea of oil and substances containing oil, as decomposition of oil takes more time in the Arctic Ocean, where there are few microscopic organisms.
The new regulations will also apply to the Antarctic Ocean, which is mainly frequented by research and sightseeing vessels.
The Northern Sea Route also holds benefits for Japan, offering a path between Germany and Yokohama that is about 60 per cent of the distance by way of the Suez Canal, which can reduce costs.
Japan used the Northern Sea Route four times from 2012 to 2013. Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. intends to build three icebreakers and enter the transport business along the route.