The International Maritime Organization has approved a joint proposal by the United States and the Russian Federation for safer ship routing in the Bering Strait and Bering Sea.

To take effect on Dec. 1, 2018, the six two-way routes and six precautionary areas are the first internationally recognized ship routing measures the IMO has approved for polar waters. It is a significant cooperative achievement by U.S. and Russian maritime safety officials, at a time when growing navigation in the high latitudes is often seen as a potential source of rivalry between the two nations.

“We have observed a steady increase in Arctic shipping activities over the last decade, and these routing measures were jointly developed in response to this increased activity,” said Mike Sollosi, the chief of the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Standards Division, in a statement announcing the IMO approval.

The new shipping routes lie in U.S. and Russian territorial waters off the coasts of Alaska and the Chukotskiy Peninsula, designed to help mariners avoid shoals, reefs and islands and to reduce the potential for marine casualties and environmental disasters. The routing is voluntary for all domestic and international ships, and there are no constraints on commercial fishing or other hunting and subsistence activities by the people who live on those waters, according to the Coast Guard.

“This is a big step forward as the U.S. Coast Guard continues to work together with international, interagency and maritime stakeholders to make our waterways safer, more efficient and more resilient,” said Sollosi.

The joint proposal grew out of a Coast Guard Port Access Route Study of Bering Strait marine traffic, with findings submitted by the Coast Guard 17th District in 2017. It is the result of a decade-long process of consultation with international, interagency, industry, and private stakeholders, and extensive coordination with community residents along the coasts of Alaska, according to the Coast Guard.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.