THE INTERNATIONAL Fund for Animal Welfare is calling on the shipping industry to regulate vessel speeds.

An independent economic analysis carried out for the NGO suggests a small reduction in commercial ship speeds could deliver socioeconomic and environmental benefits.

The study focused on ships entering and leaving European Union waters.

It found lowering vessel speeds could bring between €3.4 billion and €4.5 billion (between around $5.2 billion and $6.9 billion) in socioeconomic benefits.

The study also found adjusting speeds could reduce underwater noise, the risk of whale strikes and greenhouse gas emissions.

Sharon Livermore, director of marine conservation at IFAW, said underwater noise and GHG emissions from the shipping industry have been “creeping up to unsustainable levels” over several decades.

“Underwater noise pollution is detrimental to marine species, particularly marine mammals but also fish, crustaceans and invertebrates,” she said.

“Whales are also being killed in collisions with fast travelling ships.”

Ms Livermore said lowering ship speeds to “blue speeds”, could reduce the threats to marine animals.

Blue speed, according to IFAW, is achieved when a ship sails at 75% of its design speed.

“The shipping industry benefits, people benefit from cleaner air and marine life will benefit from a healthier ocean. This is all achievable with a relatively small change,” Ms Livermore said.

The study also found around 40% of vessel categories (based on ship design speeds) already sail at blue speeds in European waters.

“Such a comparatively small change for the shipping industry would have a significant positive impact on the environment,” Ms Livermore said.

Jutta Paulus, member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety in the European Parliament, said shipping has a considerable impact on the ocean.

“Until we have global regulations, the EU must show leadership and set an example of how to make shipping more sustainable,” she said.

However, Shipping Australia told DCN many policy and operational actions are already in place to cut underwater noise, reduce whale strikes and produce less emissions

“Ocean shipping has long been aware of and has long taken action to reduce ship strikes on whales,” a SAL spokesperson said.

“MSC has re-routed ships off the west coast of Greece to protect sperm whales and, in association with the IFAW, is working to study local populations,” they said.

“Meanwhile, MSC also began voluntarily re-routing around Sri Lanka to protect Blue Whales by passing approximately 15 nautical miles to the south of regular routes following scientific advice. The re-routing cuts the risk of ship strike on whales by 95%.”

SAL said the industry is also taking major steps to address emissions from shipping, and that it has been working to address its environmental impacts for “literally decades”.

“We note the IFAW’s call for a global-slowdown of ships. While this policy suggestion could possibly, in due course, be a solution that is favoured and adopted by the global shipping industry, it is not the only way to reduce emissions from shipping, cut marine noise, or protect whales.

“Different fuels, hull-propeller optimisation, and re-routing are just three alternative solutions that could have highly beneficial effects.

“Adopting a global shipping speed limit could have a variety of adverse effects, the most obvious effects being a massive reduction in global shipping capacity along with a reduction in the number, frequency, and resilience of services offered to shippers as the industry transitioned into a slow speed.

“There’s always a trade-off in every policy prescription and it is vital to discuss the details, burdens and benefits before taking action.”

Independent research consultancy CE Delft conducted the economic analysis for IFAW.

This article has been updated to include comments from Shipping Australia. The full response is available here.