Sailing ice-covered waters is a risky business. The Polar Code covers many of the requirements for navigating these waters safely. However, with arctic shipping on the rise and many newcomers venturing out into these areas, there is a need to develop standards in relation to crew competences.

Over the last 5 years (2016-2020), several new international standards have been prepared and published by the ISO technical committee on arctic operations (ISO/TC 67/SC 8, oil and gas sector), see also The Netherlands had several experts participating in the development of these six new standards which consist of:

  • ISO 35101 – Working environment;
  • ISO 35102 – Escape, evacuation and rescue from offshore installations;
  • ISO 35103 – Environmental monitoring;
  • ISO 35104 – Ice management;
  • ISO 35105 – Material requirements for arctic operations; and
  • ISO 35106 – Metocean, ice, and seabed data.

Recently, the wish has been expressed to develop standards in relation to “crew competences”. The Polar Code [1, 2] is a very good start prescribing requirements for crew sailing in Arctic or Antarctic waters. The requirements are listed in Section 12.3 of this code, and are presented in the following 2 tables.

Open water means ice concentrations less than 1/10th. Other waters means ice concentrations more than 1/10th. There are however more functions and operations than tankers and passenger ships, which also require such types of standards as the ones in the tables, for instance:

  • fishing;
  • mining;
  • infrastructure support (dredging and construction);
  • logistics/marine operations;
  • shore support teams;
  • transport (other than tankers); and
  • research.

Thus, several industries other than oil and gas are affected by operations in ice covered waters, where the vessel crews supported by their onshore teams can provide safe operations. Especially when the arctic shows lower ice coverages and longer summer seasons, arctic operations tend to attract more vessels as also anticipated in several scenarios and policies by international, European and national bodies. As a result, risks tend to increase as well, from the point of view of both lower ice severity (faster vessel speed) and more newcomers entering this market.

Standards for all crew

A good example where standards are written to cover crew members other than the bridge crews concerns ISO 35104, Arctic Operations – Ice Management. This standard also addresses competency requirements for various personnel dedicated to offshore ice monitoring and surveillance and other personnel. The latter group includes offshore installation managers, ice masters and officers, marine engineers, client representatives, ice charting, shore support, logistics and operational support personnel and marine deck crew.

An example where many functions needed to have some ice related training and awareness to enable a successful tow in potentially hazardous ice conditions is shown in the picture below.

Drilling unit SSDC under tow by Canmar Kigoriak, North Slope Alaska (picture W.H. Jolles).

After a well-received presentation by consultancy Jolmar at the ISO/TC 67/SC 8 meeting in November 2019, NEN in cooperation with Jolmar prepared three draft new work item proposals (NWIPs) to support this desire. These proposals have already been circulated among the ISO/TC 67/SC 8 members to seek for comments and support to take part in the activities. The draft NWIPs are in the field of competence of personnel for operations in cold climate conditions. It is intended to develop one ISO standard consisting of three parts:

  • Part 1 Requirements;
  • Part 2 Training programmes; and
  • Part 3 Conformity assessment.

Personnel in arctic waters should be aware of the specific conditions that can impact their operations

Operations in arctic waters impose more risk to personnel than operations in “normal” conditions. Risks relate to occupational health and safety of personnel, which – in case of an incident – can result in an industry event affecting process safety and the environment due to human factors. Personnel active in arctic waters should be aware of the specific conditions that can impact their operations and should have the competence to act accordingly in order to prevent incidents, and in case incidents do occur, to mitigate their impact. All three parts of the NWIPs strive to achieve this.

By Dutch example

As stated in the draft NWIPs, we acknowledge that this topic is relevant for any kind of operation in arctic waters, not only for oil and gas operations. However, we have to respect the scope of ISO/TC 67/SC 8. We intend to engage other sectors to take part in the standards development as well, so that they can adopt similar requirements as providers might also be active in different sectors and would benefit from a single, harmonised set of competence requirements and training programmes and certificates that can be recognised for all kinds of operations.

There might be the possibility that a newly proposed ISO technical committee on sustainable development in the Arctic could take the work on board. For this reason, NEN and Jolmar sent the proposals to the secretariat of DAC, the Dutch Arctic Circle, to collect feedback and poll interest among the DAC members.

We believe that a good Dutch team can be formed to lead the proposed work and set the standard. This team should consist of vessel operators, simulation providers, training institutes, researchers, shipbuilders and various related industries, which can benefit from this development.

In this way, we can enhance the position of the specialised Dutch industry (“BV Nederland”) for this important task. Various Dutch companies and other interested parties could support this effort, in cooperation with various players from other countries, like Canada and the Russian Federation.

We believe that a good Dutch team can be formed to lead the proposed work and set the standard


Part 1 of “Petroleum and natural gas industries – Arctic operations – Competence of personnel for operations in cold climate conditions” covers the requirements. This document describes the minimum competence requirements for personnel operating in arctic regions. This document applies to all personnel active in arctic regions and provides competence profiles depending on function and responsibilities of personnel. This document can also be applied to operations in such regions other than those related to the petroleum and natural gas industries.

Purpose of the document: Due to climate change, arctic regions become more easily accessible. Considering several policies related to the Arctic, an increase of economic activities is expected in the next decades. Because of the vulnerability of such areas, these activities should be sustainable from an environmental, social and economic perspective. This also means that personnel involved in operations should be well-equipped, concerning both occupational health and competency.

The petroleum and natural gas industries are already active in the Arctic and are improving their practices every day to prevent incidents. Other sectors can learn from these practices (and the other way around). Current arctic operations see many newcomers into the field and proper standards are therefore required to suit this variety of uses.

While training of personnel is addressed in some of the standards of the ISO 3510X series for arctic operations, the minimum competence requirements are not specified as such for all relevant personnel involved in such operations. Also, other reference documents, like the IMO Polar Code and industry guidance documents, address training, however not in detail for all offshore and onshore personnel involved in such operations and not aligned/harmonised.

The minimum competence requirements are not specified as such for all relevant personnel involved in such operations

The aim of the new series of standards is to ensure that all users are competent to ensure safe and sustainable operation in arctic waters. This will be achieved by analysing the existing training programmes to extract the competence requirements embedded in them. These requirements will vary depending on function and responsibilities, which also need to be established.

In addition, gaps will be identified to supplement the competence requirements for the established functions and responsibilities. This will result in competence profiles. Based on these profiles, training programmes can be developed and conformity assessment activities can be defined to demonstrate conformance to the minimum competence requirements.

This part of the NWIP will describe the competence profiles for several functions and responsibilities. The requirements for training programmes will be described in Part 2. The conformity assessment activities for both training bodies and personnel will be described in Part 3.

Training programmes

Part 2 is called “Petroleum and natural gas industries – Arctic operations – Competence of personnel for operations in cold climate conditions – Training programmes”. This document describes the requirements for developing and implementing training programmes that support persons to meet the competence requirements as described in ISO 3510X-1.

This document also describes the minimum requirements for bodies that intend to offer this training programme.

Conformity assessment

Part 3 covers conformity assessment. This document establishes requirements for assessing that a person operating in arctic regions meets the competence requirements as described in ISO 3510X-1 taking into account the function and responsibilities of this person. It also establishes requirements for assessing a training body offering a training programme as described in ISO 3510X-2.

This part will describe the requirements for assessing the competence of persons and training bodies offering training programmes.

The document provides requirements about the assessment method, the assessment duration, the assessment frequency, the competence of assessors and the criteria for providing proof of competence in accordance with ISO 3510X-1 or proof of conformance to ISO 3510X-2. This part will describe the requirements for assessing the competence of persons and training bodies offering training programmes.

While the scope of ISO/TC 67/SC 8 is limited to the oil and gas sector, it is recognised that this standard and the proposed scopes under parts 1-3, can be applicable to all operations that involve humans in arctic regions and should be developed as such.

How will it work?

  • Proposal work group: A working group is formed from the countries participating in the ISO activities. Different experts within such countries can apply or be nominated through their national standards body, like NEN does in the Netherlands.
  • Working group activities: To implement the project proposals and to draft new standards in various stages. These are sent around for comments and feedback from all cooperating experts from different countries including some voting steps among the member bodies (countries) to formally proceed to the next stage. Finally, a new international standard will be published by ISO and can be adopted by the member bodies as national standard. Each country can nominate multiple experts. In all of the aforementioned projects for arctic operations, more than fifty experts were enrolled, with a dozen doing most of the work.
  • Possible participants: The working group can consist of representatives of training institutes, researchers, universities, performers (operators), ship owners, classification bodies, authorities, standards bodies, NGOs and other stakeholders.
  • Time investment: This depends on the projects and the distribution of the work among the experts. This can vary between 40 hours (advice and control) per person up to 100 or more hours for experts of the central team.
  • Budgets: All working group experts provide coverage for their own costs. A request will also be made among larger organisations for a budget to cover one-man companies and/or other experts.
  • Possible results: This will consist of a lot of cooperation between various parties at home and abroad. This not only increases awareness, but also the knowledge of the cooperating players. There is a lot of exchange between players of high expertise (“peers”), mainly virtually, but also by face-to-face at companies that offer hosting ISO project meetings.
  • Possible benefits: Increased knowledge of the various training programmes stimulates more business and thus more revenue by bringing in new customers. The “BV Nederland” already has a lot of expertise and the further development of this expertise compared to a number of other countries will certainly increase interest and thereby increase turnover.

Get involved

After reading the above new crew competence proposals, will you endorse them? Are you interested to cooperate (expert, interested party or as “reviewer”)? Are there other challenges that play a role? We would like to hear from you. Contact the author through the details below for more information.

Picture (top): Ever more cruise companies seek to explore arctic waters (by Robert van Kempen, courtesy of Experience Travel).


  1. IMO Polar Code
  2. DNV GL

This article was written by Wim Jolles and published in SWZ|Maritime’s September 2020 issue.