Cargo Ships Slow Down, Protecting Whales and Blue Skies

Cargo Ships Slow Down, Protecting Whales and Blue Skies title=
Cargo Ships Slow Down, Protecting Whales and Blue Skies
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Photo by Rudolf Kirchner 

Source: Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District

The partners in an initiative to cut air pollution and protect endangered whales announced results from the 2019 program and recognized the 15 shipping companies that participated, reducing speeds to 10 knots or less in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Santa Barbara Channel region. The voluntary incentive program ran May 15, 2019 through November 15, 2019. Partners hope to further recognize the companies at a ceremony at the Port of Hueneme later this year, depending on public health guidelines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 average baseline speed of participating ships prior to the incentive program is approximately 15 knots in the VSR zones.) The 10-knot target follows the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) requests for all vessels (300 gross tons or larger) to slow down during the months of peak endangered blue, humpback, and fin whale abundance to protect these whales from deadly ship strikes. 

NOAA has identified ship strikes as a leading cause of death; reducing these mortalities is a major priority of NOAA’s, including NOAA’s West Coast national marine sanctuaries. Documented deaths totaled 48 endangered whales from 2007-2019, and likely represent only a small fraction of the total number of ship strikes annually.

The timing of the program also coincides with the season when ground-level ozone (smog) concentrations are typically high. The 10-knot target allows ships to travel at an efficient operating load using less fuel and producing less pollution. Ocean-going vessels transiting the California coast generate nitrogen oxides (NOx, a precursor to smog), sulfur oxides (SOx), particle pollution, and greenhouse gases. These vessels account for more than 200 tons of NOx per day emitted off the coast of California, which affects ozone levels onshore in many regions of the state. The greater Los Angeles area (including Ventura County), San Diego, and San Francisco Bay areas do not meet the state and/or federal air quality standards for ozone. 

The program is a collaborative effort by the following agencies and organizations: 
•    Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District
•    Ventura County Air Pollution Control District
•    Bay Area Air Quality Management District
•    Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
•    Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
•    Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
•    The Volgenau Foundation
•    California Marine Sanctuary Foundation 
•    National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
•    Environmental Defense Center 
The program partners established four award tiers to recognize participating companies based on the percent of distance their fleet traveled through the VSR zones at speeds of 10 knots or less. The four award tiers are Sapphire (75-100% of fleet total distance in VSR zones traveled at 10 knots or less), Gold (50-74%), Silver (25-49%), and Bronze (10-24%). Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders on each ship continuously transmitted the ship’s speed, heading, and location. AIS data was analyzed for each fleet and the company’s performance was classified by tier. Companies that performed at Gold or Sapphire level were awarded a financial incentive. Below is the award tier earned by each participating company: 

MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company)
GALI (Great American Lines, Inc)
Polynesia Line
“K” Line    
PIL (Pacific International Lines)
Yang Ming    
Hyundai Glovis
ONE (Ocean Network Express)    

The Mediterranean Shipping Company and Hapag-Lloyd notably achieved the Sapphire tier in the large company category (greater than 30 transits) in both regions by slowing down more than 400 transits, combined. Polynesia Line and GALI achieved the Sapphire tier in the small company category (less than 30 transits) in both regions. For their outstanding commitment, all four of these companies earned the Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Whale Tail award.  

The VSR incentive program has expanded in scope and environmental benefits each year, including 2019, which marked the fifth year. Highlights of the 2019 program include: 

  • Of the nearly 180,000 nautical miles of ocean transited by all the ships in the program, more than 99,000 nautical miles were at 10 knots or less. 


  • Ships in the program transiting the Santa Barbara Channel 100-nautical-mile VSR zone traveled at 10 knots or less for 52% of the total miles travelled. In 2018, 32% of those miles were traveled at 10 knots or less; in 2017, 21% of those miles were traveled at 10 knots or less. This shows the increasing commitment by the participating companies over the years.


  • In the San Francisco Bay Area 30-nautical-mile VSR zone, 2019 cooperation from the participating companies increased to 65%. In 2017 and 2018, 50% of the total nautical miles were traveled at 10 knots or less.


  • Incentives ranged from $2,000 to $50,000 per company in the Gold and Sapphire award tiers. 


  • Five companies – COSCO, Evergreen, GALI, K Line, and Polynesia Line – generously declined their financial incentive payment. Those funds will be reinvested in the 2020 program.


The 2020 program started on May 15, 2020. For more information, visit


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a-1590001414 May 20, 2020 12:03 PM
Cargo Ships Slow Down, Protecting Whales and Blue Skies

Thank you to the participating companies and to all who worked so hard to make this happen. Blue whales, Humpbacks, Fins, etc ———-whales need all the help they can get. If only Japan, Norway, Russia, Iceland and other whaling countries, including USA native tribes, would cease whale hunting.

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