Canada Lifts Ship Speed Restrictions

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

August 5, 2019

Right whale "lobtails" as researchers watch from a distance. Photo taken by Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR).

Right whale "lobtails" as researchers watch from a distance. Photo taken by Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR).

Transport Canada,  the department within the Government of Canada,  says it’s lifting speed restrictions for cargo ships in the Gulf of St. Lawrence after recent surveillance failed to detect North Atlantic right whales in shipping lanes.

There weren’t any whales in the shipping lanes where speed had been reduced, Transport Canada pointed out, adding that the lower speed limit had driven cargo ships out of the lanes so they could take more direct routes through areas where the animals are known to gather.

Over the past month, Transport Canada’s National Aerial Surveillance Program has greatly intensified surveillance with 240 flight hours over 44 missions, which is more than one a day. During this time, no North Atlantic right whales were spotted in the shipping lanes.

As such, vessels are once again allowed to proceed at safe operational speeds in the shipping lanes. Enhanced surveillance will continue, and should a North Atlantic right whale be spotted in the shipping lanes, interim slowdown measures will once again be immediately implemented.

"After a period of intense aerial surveillance and a mandatory slowdown, I can report that no North Atlantic right whales have been spotted in the shipping lanes – areas vital to our marine transportation industry. Although we are allowing vessels to transit at safe operating speeds in the designated shipping lanes, if even one North Atlantic right whale is spotted, we will immediately implement another slowdown," said Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport.

During the slowdown period, because the speed limit was the same throughout the Gulf area, vessels have been observed using more direct routes to transit through the Gulf instead of using the shipping lanes. This has resulted in more marine traffic coming closer to known whale locations.

In order to encourage vessel traffic in areas where no North Atlantic right whales have been spotted, vessels will once again be able to maximize efficient routes to transit through the Gulf. With safe operational speed limits in the shipping lanes, marine vessels will be encouraged to take routes further away from the whales.

The marine traffic in the region has been highly compliant with these measures, however Transport Canada continues to examine all reported cases of non-compliance. The department has issued three Administrative Monetary Penalties to vessels this year which contravened the interim mandatory slowdown.

Transport Canada continues to work with other government departments and the marine transportation industry to ensure the safety of the North Atlantic right whale, and is prepared to adjust its measures as necessary.

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