Safer Shipping Routes for Arctic’s Bering Strait Receive International Approval This Week After Years of Input from Local Communities and NGOs
Kevin Harun, Arctic Program Director for Pacific Environment, reports from this week’s London meeting of the International Maritime Organization that milestone protections proposed jointly by the U.S. and Russia to establish arctic shipping routes and define environmentally sensitive areas in the Bering Strait were approved. The IMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that sets international shipping law.
The newly adopted measures steer shippers away from hazards such as shoals and reefs to established routes charted in modern times.
As well, the committee approved U.S. proposals to protect three marine areas surrounding Nunivak Island, St. Lawrence Island, and King Island critical for wildlife and central to local cultures and food security. Local Bering Strait communities provided extensive input into defining the proposal and defending it at the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
These measures are the culmination of over five-years of negotiations including bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and Russia as well as input from indigenous Bering Strait communities that rely on marine resources for food and traditional culture.
With increased shipping, concerns loom about potential shipwrecks, environmental catastrophes, and casualties in the Bering Strait’s remote, arctic waters where emergencies or oil spill response is severely limited or non-existent.
Adoption of similar routing measures and protected areas in the Aleutian Islands have dramatically shifted ships away from sensitive and dangerous area.