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Updated 30 March 2020

In an effort to protect whales and cut ship emissions, California continues its Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Program which financially award ship operators that slow down their vessels to a speed of 10 knots or less in the Santa Barbara Channel region and San Francisco Bay area.

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 following program criteria:

  • The  incentive program will typically be in effect between May and 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.
  • 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.
  • Only container ships and auto carriers/Ro-Ro vessels are eligible as these are typically the fastest ships in the region.

For more information on the VSR program, including details of the defined VSR zones in the Santa Barbara Channel region and San Francisco Bay and instructions and forms for signing up, please visit: https://www.ourair.org/air-pollution-marine-shipping/.

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.