Speed restriction measures to protect North Atlantic right whales from the risk of being struck by vessels on passage have been in place in certain areas off the east coast of the United States for many years. Due to the changing migratory habits of the right whale, the Canadian Authorities have now put in place a seasonal speed restriction zone and sectors in the western part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The areas covered by a speed restriction are a combination of a static zone and dynamic sectors, full details of which can be found in Transport Canada’s Ship Safety Bulletin 06/2018 – Protection of the North Atlantic Right Whale – Speed Restriction Measures in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
In the static zone all vessels of 20m or more in length must proceed at a speed not exceeding 10 knots over the ground. Within the static zone, four dynamic sectors have been created along the principal shipping routes. In the dynamic sectors vessels may proceed at a safe speed when the Canadian Authorities have determined that right whales do not appear to be in the area. Once it has been established that right whales are present within a dynamic sector, a NOTSHIP (Notice to Shipping) will be issued and vessels of 20m or more in length must proceed at a speed not exceeding 10 knots over the ground in that sector. When a NOTSHIP is issued advising of a speed restriction in a dynamic sector, this will ordinarily be in force for 15 days, although this may be extended if right whales are determined to still be in the area.
The speed restrictions are in effect from 28th April 2018 until 15th November 2018, however, these dates may vary depending on the presence of right whales. Outside of this period vessels are asked to voluntarily reduce their speed to not more than 10 knots over the ground when in the vicinity of right whales, although only if it is safe to proceed at such a speed due to the prevailing circumstances and conditions. At any time, if right whales are spotted in the vicinity, a vessel should reduce her speed to 10 knots or less over the ground.
A failure to comply with the mandatory speed restrictions could lead to penalties being imposed with fines ranging from CAD 6,000 to CAD 25,000.
Although exemptions to the mandated speed restrictions will not be granted in advance, the authorities will review and consider the following reasons for non-compliance.
- Navigating to ensure vessel safety.
- Weather conditions.
- Force Majeure (unforeseeable circumstances).
- Responding to emergencies.
Members requiring further guidance should contact the Loss Prevention department.