Twenty three shipping companies, including Canada’s CSL Group, participated in Protecting Blue Whales & Blue Skies vessel speed reduction program in 2022, contributing to cleaner air, safer whales, and a quieter ocean. Companies are recognized for their vessels transiting at ten knots or less in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Southern California region. The program’s Southern California region extends from Point Arguello (in Santa Barbara County) to waters near Port Hueneme and Dana Point (by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach).
The voluntary incentive program ran May 1- Dec. 15, 2022. Participation was greater than any previous year, and increased from eighteen shipping companies participating in 2021.
The 2023 program runs May 1 through December 15, 2023. This will be the biggest season yet for whale protection and clean air, with tanker operators invited to join. Expansion of the San Francisco VSR zone will extend the area by approximately 130 miles to include all of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Shipping companies receive recognition and financial awards based on the percent of distance traveled by their vessels through the Vessel Speed Reduction (VSR) zones at 10 knots or less and with an average speed of 12 knots or less.
The three award tiers are Sapphire (85-100% of fleet total distance in VSR zones traveled at ten knots or less), Gold (60-84%), and Blue Sky (35-59%). Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders on each ship transmit the ship’s speed and location. AIS data was analyzed for each fleet and the company’s performance was classified by tier. Companies that performed at the Gold or Sapphire level were offered a financial incentive.
Eight participating companies reached the Sapphire level, the most in the top category since the program began. They include Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), Swire Shipping, Yang Ming, COSCO Shipping, NYK Ro-Ro, Wallenius Wilhelmsen, and CSL Group.
The ten-knot target complements the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Coast Guard, and Environmental Protection Agency requests for all vessels (300 gross tons or larger) to reduce speeds during the months of peak air pollution and endangered blue, humpback, and fin whale abundance to protect these whales from ship strikes.
Ship strikes are a major threat to whales globally and to the recovery of endangered blue, fin, and humpback whales in California waters. Reducing the risk of ship strikes is a major priority of NOAA’s, including NOAA’s West Coast national marine sanctuaries. Observed and documented deaths totaled 52 endangered whales from 2007-2022, and likely represent only a small fraction of the total number of ship strikes taking place annually.
(Photo by John Calambokis/Cascadia Research of blue whale being monitored in the shipping lanes of the Santa Barbara channel)