Background

Traffic to the Russian ports on the Baltic Sea has increased greatly over the last few years; as a result, Russia's icebreaking capacity can no longer meet demand in severe winter conditions. In 2011 Russia proposed a treaty with Finland on icebreaking cooperation. The new Russian Merchant Shipping Code enables foreign vessels to provide certain services in the harbours and territorial waters of Russia. Finland was the first country to which Russia proposed icebreaking cooperation under the new code.

Negotiations were held from 2012 and the wording of the treaty was agreed in December 2013. The treaty was signed on September 15 2014 and finally came into force on January 15 2016.

Agreement

As outlined in Article 1 of the agreement, its focus is to promote cooperation in icebreaking assistance in the Baltic Sea. 'Icebreaking assistance' is defined as using an icebreaker to:

  • open a path in the ice through which a ship can travel alone or assisted or towed by the icebreaker; or
  • break down the ice surrounding a ship.

The agreement allows icebreaking assistance to be provided in the Baltic Sea and the territorial waters of Finland and Russia. Finnish icebreakers may now operate in the eastern parts of the Gulf of Finland that are Russian territorial waters. Reciprocally, Russian icebreakers may assist vessels operating in Finnish ports in the Gulf of Finland. Operations in Russian and Finnish territorial waters continue to need a permit from the relevant authorities.

In Russian and Finnish territorial waters, icebreaking assistance is provided pursuant to international commitments and applicable legislation. Outside of these territorial waters, assistance is provided in accordance with international law.

The agreement allows Finland and Russia to request and quickly obtain icebreaking assistance when their own icebreaking capacity is insufficient. Where necessary, the competent authority of the party requesting assistance will send a request to the competent authority of the assisting party, which will declare as quickly as possible whether it is possible to provide assistance and, if so, the conditions of the assistance (eg, that the assisting party can recall the icebreakers).

Icebreaking assistance is provided under a commercial agreement, which defines a compensation system and the individual conditions of assistance.

The party requesting assistance applies simplified border-crossing procedures by exempting the assisting icebreakers and their crews from customs and other formalities, unless they visit in the harbour of the party requesting assistance.

There are some specific operational restrictions to what assisting icebreakers can do in foreign territorial waters, mainly due to national security and safety reasons.

Any disagreements in the interpretation or application of the agreement will be settled by negotiation. Cancellation of the agreement is subject to diplomatic notice of 12 months.

For further information on this topic please contact Matti Komonen at Hammarström Puhakka Partners, Attorneys Ltd by telephone (+358 9 474 2207) or email (matti.komonen@hpplaw.fi). The Hammarström Puhakka Partners, Attorneys Ltd website can be accessed at www.hpplaw.fi.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.