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In an effort to protect whales and cut ship emissions, California continues its Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Program and establishes voluntary vessel speed reduction zones in the Santa Barbara Channel region and San Francisco Bay area between 1 July 2018 and 15 November 2018.

Many of you are probably aware that the US West Coast has some of the heaviest ship traffic associated with some of the largest ports in the country, such as the Californian ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. You may also be aware that strict air pollution regulations in California have forced many ships to slow down off the Californian coast. But did you know that California’s waters are host to numerous threatened and endangered whale species? And that the unintended consequence of ships’ slowing down has been a reduction in the number of fatal ship strikes to whales?

California’s Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Program is an incentive program recognising shipping companies that take action to protect endangered whales and improve air quality. Voluntary vessel speed reduction (VSR) zones are established during periods that coincide with the busiest whale season and the prime period for high levels of air pollution - and financial rewards are provided to shipping companies that enrol and operate their vessels in accordance with the program criteria.

According to a press release of 19 June 2018:

  • The 2018 incentive program will be in effect from 1 July to 15 November in defined VSR zones in the Santa Barbara Channel region and San Francisco Bay area.
  • Financial incentives will be awarded to companies based on per cent of distance travelled by their vessels through the VSR zones at 10 knots or less, termed “per cent cooperation,” during the identified period.
  • Average speed of a transit throughout the entire VSR zones must not exceed 12 knots in order to receive credit for distance travelled at 10 knots or less.
  • The awards range from approximately USD 1,000 to USD 35,000 per company.
  • Each vessel’s speed transiting the VSR Zones will be verified using Automatic Identification System (AIS) data.
  • There is no penalty if companies enrolled in the program are unable to meet the minimum program criteria.

Members and clients with vessels calling at ports in California that wish to enrol in the program should do so by 30 June 2018 if possible but no later than 10 July 2018. The instructions and forms for signing up are available at: https://www.ourair.org/air-pollution-marine-shipping/.

We also take the opportunity to remind Members and clients of the mandatory 10 knot speed limit that applies until 31 July 2018 in the Great South Channel Seasonal Management Area off the coast of Boston, Massachusetts on the US East Coast and which is a feeding ground for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, see NOAA Fisheries’ website for additional information.

The state of California is known for its enforcement of stringent environmental regulations. In addition to complying with stricter air emission requirements under the California Ocean-going Vessel (OGV) Fuel Regulation, vessels calling at California ports must also comply with regulations for ballast water discharges and biofouling enforced under the state’s Marine Invasive Species Program.