Shipping Lane Changes Ahead?

Following the release of the new Port Access Route Study for ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the Coast Guard last week recommended that shipping lanes within the Santa Barbara Channel be re-routed to prevent future ship strikes for whales — especially blue, fin and humpback whales.

In Fall 2007, five blue whales were killed as a result of ship collisions in the Santa Barbara Channel, which has the world’s most dense seasonal congregation of blue whales.

The Port Access Route Study recommends that the existing separation between shipping lanes in the Santa Barbara Channel be narrowed from 2 miles to 1 nautical mile, so that the inbound lane could be moved 1 mile north, away from a “shelf edge” area where whales feed on krill.

While environmental activists generally applauded the idea of moving the shipping lanes, the Environmental Defense Council (EDC) said the plan did not go far enough to protect whales. The group is asking for a 10-knot speed limit to be imposed on all vessels that operate around migrating whales or within four California marine sanctuaries.

“We support mandatory speed limits, so that whales are less likely to be hurt or killed by a collision with a ship,” said Brian Segee, staff attorney for the EDC. “Slower ship speeds will also reduce air pollution, noise and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Coast Guard responded that authority to impose speed limits to protect whales rests with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Complicating matters further, for the past year, many large commercial vessels have been avoiding the Santa Barbara Channel shipping lanes entirely — in order to avoid having to comply with new California Air Resources Board requirements for using cleaner low-sulfur fuels within 24 miles of the California coast. Instead, vessels have been taking a route that has been called “the western approach” to the ports, running through the Point Mugu Sea Range — where the Navy conducts live-fire training exercises.

The Port Access Route Study recommends that shipping lanes be established on the south side of the Channel Islands, to reduce potential ship conflicts with the military.

Before any of the study’s recommendations could be implemented, the Coast Guard would be required to go through a formal public rule-making process. Check The Log Newspaper for the latest information on any upcoming public comment periods — and be sure to express your opinion about the proposed changes to shipping lanes and new speed limits.

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