Northern Sea Route: Law and regulation


Published: 27 January 2015

The Northern Sea Route (NSR) continues to be an area of development, not least from a legal and regulatory point of view. Given that the NSR falls within Russian territory, it is the development of the law in Russia that will be of key interest to members.

The development

Traversing the icy waters of the Northern Sea Route requires more than just the physical preparation of the vessel and the training of the crew for the harsh environment they will encounter.

It also requires a thorough understanding of both the development - and limits - of the legal and regulatory environment.

In the overview prepared by Aibek Ahmedov, and republished here with his kind permission, the main Russian regulatory provisions are highlighted and relevant case law discussed.

Particularly it is noteworthy that there are three main statutory and regulatory enactments to note:

  1. Act No. 132-FZ (also known as Northern Sea Route Act 2012),
  2. the Merchant Shipping Code, which has been amended by the Northern Sea Route Act so as to include the rules of passage through the NSR
  3. and the Order of Ministry of Transport of Russian Federation No. 7, dated January 17 2013 on approval of Rules of passage through the NSR (also known as the "NSR Rules").

While there is so far only limited case law, it does provide important guidance as to how the courts interpret the law and approach the regulations in practice.

The necessity of obtaining the required permission for traversing the waters is, for one, clearly established and no voyage should be attempted without it. Permission may dependent on the ice class of the vessel and whether there is a case for urgency.

Proper voyage preparation therefore requires complying with the applicable regulations and ensuring the necessary administrative and compliance tasks are undertaken in advance.

Further reading

The Association continues to develop its resources for members with respect to information and advice in relation to Northern Sea Route and other Artic trading matters.

Given the on-going nature of the practical and legal developments, the Association would like to encourage members to provide confidential feedback on their own particular experiences with both the NSR and other trading in the extreme northern corners of the world.

The Association is grateful to Aibek Ahmedov for contributing to this advisory.