News 24 Nov, 2010

USA - Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule

The United States (US) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has recently published a press release announcing that it is issuing Notices of Violation and Assessment (NOVAs) proposing civil administrative penalties against seven vessels for allegedly violating the seasonal speed limits in force on the US east coast designed to protect North Atlantic Right Whales.

The civil penalties proposed in this instance range from $16,500 to $49,500 depending on the number of violations. In the event of a fine being imposed, shipowners have 30 days to either pay the penalty, seek to have the fine modified or request a hearing before an administrative law judge. All of the seven fines imposed relate to regulatory infringements during the 2009/2010 season.

Seasonal speed restrictions have been in force since December 2008 limiting vessels of 65 feet (19.80m) or more in overall length to a maximum speed of 10 knots when sailing within the defined seasonal management areas if subject to the jurisdiction of the US or when entering or departing a port or place subject to US jurisdiction.

The 10 knot limit may only be exceeded if the Master or pilot determines that a higher speed is required due to the prevailing conditions to maintain the safe manoeuvrability of the vessel.

There are believed to be as few as 350 North Atlantic Right Whales still in existence. Their dark skin and lack of a dorsal fin make the whale very difficult to see which, when combined with their slow speed and the considerable amount of time they spend on the surface, makes them particularly susceptible to being struck by vessels. The speed restrictions were introduced to minimise the likelihood of death or serious injury in the event of contact between vessels and whales.

The areas covered by the speed restriction are:

  • The feeding areas off Cape Cod, with three seasonal management areas in place with various dates of enforcement between 1 January and 31 July;
  • The migratory route and calving grounds covering various areas along the east coast from Rhode Island to Brunswick, Georgia, from 1 November to 30 April;
  • The calving and nursery grounds covering the coastal area from Brunswick to St. Augustine, Florida, from 15 November to 15 April.

The NOAA Fisheries Service has published a “Compliance Guide for Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule” giving details of the rule requirements and the areas affected. Further details on the North Atlantic Right Whale and federal laws in force to protect the whale can be found in the NOAA Fisheries Service “Right Whale Marine Mammal Fact Sheet”. NOAA advise that approaching or remaining within 500 yards (457m) of a North Atlantic Right Whale is a violation of federal law, breaches of which may lead to civil or criminal fines of up to $55,000.

At present the regulatory requirements concerning speed limits in the seasonal management areas expire on 9 December 2013. However, NOAA may extend the requirement depending on the effectiveness of the rule in reducing instances of whales being struck by vessels.

Further information is available on the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources website or from the Loss Prevention Department.