Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies: Results from 2014 ship speed reduction trial in Santa Barbara Channel

Posted on: 10/18/2018 - Updated on: 2/28/2020

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A coalition of government and non-profit groups today announced results from a 2014 vessel speed reduction trial incentive program in the Santa Barbara Channel to slow cargo ships down to reduce air pollution and increase protection of endangered whales.

From July through November 2014, seven global shipping companies – COSCO, Hapag-Lloyd, K-Line, Maersk, Matson, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and United Arab Shipping Company – slowed speeds of ships for 27 trips through the channel to 12 knots (from previous speeds of 14-18 knots) for an incentive payment of $2,500 per trip. Slowing ships to 12 knots or less cuts air pollution, and also greatly reduces the chance that a ship strike on a whale will be fatal. 

The trial achieved a reduction of 16 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions over the 27 trips, and a reduction of 500 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Both represent a 50 percent reduction from baseline emissions.  Nitrogen oxide contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, a primary component of smog that is harmful to human health. Most of the ship transits occurred from July through October, a time period that coincides with the peak period of ozone air pollution and the peak whale feeding season in the Santa Barbara Channel.