A WHALE protection initiative for shipping companies has reported its highest participation levels to date and has named the companies which contributed to a reduction in air pollution, ocean noise and risks to whales last year.

Thirty-three shipping companies participated in the Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies vessel speed reduction (VSR) program, which ran from 1 May through 15 December 2023. The results were released last week.

Companies which sign up for the voluntary program reduce ship speeds to 10 knots or less while off the coast of California – a speed that aims to reduce the risk of deadly ship strikes to whales, and also reduces fuel usage and emissions.

Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies placed each of the 33 shipping companies in one of three performance measurement tiers, based on analysis of their fleets’ AIS data. Those tiers are Sapphire (85% to 100% of fleet total distance in VSR zones travelled at 10 knots or less), Gold (60% to 84%), and Blue Sky (35% to 59%).

CMA CGM, CSL Group, D’Amico Tankers DAC, Hapag-Lloyd, MSC, NingBo Ocean Shipping Co, NYK Ro-Ro, Ocean Network Express, OOCL, OSG Ship Management, Swire Shipping, Yang Ming, and Wallenius Wilhelmsen were all recognised in the Sapphire tier (13 all up).

COSCO, K Line, MOL, Maersk Line and Evergreen were among the 11 companies in the Gold tier, and HMM and Swire Bulk were among the 10 in the Blue Sky tier.

Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies estimates the slower transits of vessels under the program posed approximately 58% less strike mortality risk to whales than if those vessels did not reduce their speed.

Ships in the qualifying performance tiers had sound levels that were 5.4 dB per transit lower when compared to 2016 baseline source levels.

Stanley Kwiaton, MSC regional manager, west coast, port operations, said MSC had remained in the highest tier for six consecutive years.

“As a family company that was born from a passion for the sea we are dedicated to realising sustainable cargo transportation,” he said.

“Part and parcel of this commitment is protecting marine life and the ecosystems they inhabit. We are also collaborating with other stakeholders to raise awareness and promote best practices for whale protection.”

OOCL director of trades Michael Xu said all businesses should take responsibility in minimising their environmental impact.

“As a responsible corporate citizen, OOCL will continue to support the program, as well as to take other proactive steps to embrace our long-term sustainability goals,” he said.

And Swire Shipping North America president Harry Stones said responsible stewardship of biodiversity is fundamental to a healthy and thriving ocean.

“We’re proud to translate this commitment into action through our active participation in the Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies program, which aligns with our values of sustainability and marine conservation,” he said.

“We look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts within the industry in this vital programme to foster a healthier ocean for generations to come.”

And Emily Pointon, CSL director environmental, social and governance, said it is important to protect marine life in the areas where the company conducts its daily shipping operations.

“By actively engaging in this program, we acknowledge its role in advancing our environmental objectives and ensuring a sustainable future for the maritime industry,” she said.

This year’s VSR program is scheduled to run from May through December 2024.