MSC Alters Course Around Sri Lanka To Safeguard Blue Whales

MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company has taken a big step forward to protect blue whales and other cetaceans inhabiting the waters off the coast of Sri Lanka by making modifications to the navigation guidance in line with top scientists’ advice as other vital actors associated with the maritime sector.

MSC, a global leader in container shipping and logistics, started in the middle of 2022 to voluntarily re-route vessels sailing by Sri Lanka on a new course nearly 15 nm to the south of the present traffic separation scheme, better known as the TSS, for commercial shipping. MSC made sure to follow the guidance based on surveys done by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Biosphere Foundation, the World Trade Institute (WTI), Sri Lanka’s University of Ruhuna, Raja and the Whales, and also the University of St Andrews (in the UK), and endorsed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), to alter the routing for its vessels.

Image for representation purpose only

Westbound ship traffic is now limited to a latitude between 05 30N and 05 35N. On the other hand, eastbound traffic is determined to play between 05 24N and 05 29N to avoid the designated cetacean habitats.

Besides, an exception was recently put in place for vessels that embark and disembark for safety issues in Galle, including in case of poor weather. Additionally, smaller feeder vessels that sail in the Bay of Bengal are recommended to reduce their speed to less than 10 knots in the area.

Sri Lanka is in the Indian Ocean. It lies between Europe and Asia, and the port of Colombo is one of the major transhipment hubs for global trade.

Reducing the risk of ship strikes by as much as 95%

The area off its southern coast is one of the busiest and most important shipping channels in the world. It is inhabited by large populations of cetaceans, indicating that these could also be at risk of colliding with huge ships.

Simulations have reflected that shifting the official shipping lane by about 15 nm to the south may reduce the strike risks to blue whales by almost 95%.

But, despite years of advocacy by scientists, NGOs, and the maritime industry, the boundaries of the official shipping channel haven’t yet been reassigned to lower the risks of ship strikes on these cetaceans.

Encouraging coordinated actions

In Sri Lanka mainly, the liner shipping industry spearheaded by the World Shipping Council, of which MSC is a member, has advocated coming up with a new official marine traffic scheme wholly separated from the blue whale feeding area. It is also likely that this will become a reality soon, so all large-scale commercial maritime traffic movements to the more southerly zone that MSC vessels are currently guided to follow.

Meanwhile, MSC urges other ship operators to consider opting for a more southerly route, especially past Sri Lanka, to lower the possibility of whale strikes significantly.

References: AJOT

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