What is vessel speed reduction (VSR)?

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what is vessel speed reduction

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) prioritizes reducing emissions from shipping, and one key measure it’s exploring is vessel speed reduction (VSR). VSR refers to practices that encourage or enforce slower ship travel speeds to reduce fuel consumption and emissions within the concerned zones. Beyond environmental benefits, slow steaming can also reduce fuel costs for shipping companies and improve safety for marine life.

What are the objectives of adopting vessel speed reduction?

The Vessel Speed Reduction Program is primarily set to lower air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions from ships: container and cruise ships, roll-on/roll-off vessels, bulkers, general cargo, and medium-sized chemical tankers. This also helps to protect marine life and save costs on fuel.

Reduced emissions

Slower speeds reduce fuel consumption and emissions of air pollutants like sulfur oxides and greenhouse gases, aiding in climate change mitigation and improving air quality near ports and shipping lanes.

The Port of San Diego reports significant success with its Vessel Speed Reduction (VSR) program. Estimates show annual reductions of 63% in fuel consumption and 60%, 62%, and 63% in NOx, DPM, and CO2e emissions, respectively. Cargo vessels are asked to observe a 12-knot speed limit and cruise ships a 15-knot limit within a VSR zone extending 40 nautical miles from Point Loma.

Fuel cost savings

One of the most compelling economic arguments for VSR programs lies in their direct impact on fuel consumption. By slowing down, ships burn less fuel. This translates to significant cost savings for shipping companies and improves their profit margins, driving down freight rates, which could ultimately benefit consumers by reducing the final price of goods.

Enhanced safety

When a vessel travels at a reduced speed, it has greater maneuverability and takes less distance to come to a complete stop. This allows crews more time to react to unexpected situations or potential hazards, such as sightings of other vessels or obstacles in the water. This increased reaction time translates to a significant reduction in the risk of collisions between ships, protecting both property and lives at sea.

Protection of marine life

Whale collisions with ships, known as ship strikes, are a major global threat.

In California waters, endangered blue, fin, and humpback whales are especially at risk. Reducing these collisions is a top priority for NOAA’s West Coast National Marine Sanctuaries. From 2007 to 2022, 52 endangered whales were documented killed by ship strikes in California, though the actual number is likely higher due to unreported deaths.

Lowering ship speeds also reduces underwater noise, which is crucial for marine animals like dolphins and whales that rely on sound for navigation, finding food, and socializing. Ship noise can disrupt these activities, affecting mating, prey location, and predator avoidance, and can cause permanent hearing loss. Chronic noise exposure also triggers stress hormones, impacting immune systems and overall health. These disruptions significantly affect the marine ecosystem.

How to implement VSR?

Within slow-speed zones around ports, all ships must operate at or below a designated speed limit, which may vary depending on the type and size of the vessel. There are some common methods for VSR implementation.

Voluntary programs

Ports or industry associations might offer incentives for ships to slow down in designated zones. To incentivize eco-friendly practices, concerned authorities offer fee reductions (berthing fees for example) to shipping companies that slow down certain vessel types by a designated amount, and maintain a minimum number of port arrivals and departures annually. The port then provides a lump-sum rebate on port fees based on the annual settlement of accounts. Such a program may be adjusted depending on the specific port’s situation.

Mandatory speed limits

While voluntary slow steaming offers some benefits, it lacks the long-term effectiveness of regulations to achieve substantial and lasting emission reductions. Therefore, regulations are essential to ensure significant and sustained progress towards a cleaner shipping industry. In some specific areas like pollution control zones or areas with high risks of collisions with marine life, speed restrictions are set by regional authorities or individual countries’ regulatory bodies.

Weather routing

While aiming for the most efficient route is a priority, optimizing for weather conditions can sometimes have an unexpected effect on speed. Taking calmer seas or avoiding strong currents might lengthen the journey compared to a direct route. However, these slower speeds can translate to fuel savings and a smoother ride for the crew and cargo, ultimately contributing to a more efficient voyage.

What are some of the biggest VSR plans?

different vsr program to protect whales

United States VSR plan to minimize air pollution

For example, to combat air pollution, the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and New York/New Jersey partnered with environmental and shipping organizations in 2001 to establish the Vessel Speed Reduction Program (VSRP). VSRP is a voluntary program that incentivizes Ocean-Going Vessels (OGVs) to reduce their speed by 10 and 15 knots as they enter or leave the ports within a designated zone (20 or 40 nautical miles from Point Fermin). This program helps to significantly reduce emissions of harmful pollutants like diesel particulate matter (DPM), nitrous oxides (NOx), and greenhouse gases (GHGs), contributing to a cleaner environment. Currently, registration is not required to participate in VSRP.

California “Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies"

In the United States and Canada, protecting endangered North Atlantic right whales is a priority for NOAA. This is achieved through designated slow zones, with Seasonal Management Areas (SMAs) imposing mandatory speed limits based on whale migration and feeding patterns. In additional zones, speed limits are voluntary when at least three right whales are spotted, providing extra protection.

In California, the “Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies” vessel speed reduction (VSR) program recently reported successful 2023 results. This voluntary, incentive-based program ran from May 1st to December 15th with participation from 33 global shipping companies. Their efforts led to improved air quality along the California Coast, reduced collision risks with endangered whales, and minimized underwater noise pollution benefiting marine mammals. Companies voluntarily reduced ship speeds to 10 knots or less in designated areas, including San Francisco, Monterey Bay, and Southern California.

South Korea VSR

Similarly, to improve air quality around its four main ports (Busan, Incheon, Ulsan, Yeosu Gwangyang), South Korea has implemented a Vessel Speed Reduction Program (VSR). This program encourages ships to reduce their speed within designated zones. In return for using less fuel by slowing down, participating vessels benefit from reduced port fees. The program applies to ocean-going vessels exceeding 3,000 tons that regularly use established routes.

European “Blue Speeds for shipping”

A 2021 report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) revealed that underwater noise in EU waters more than doubled between 2014 and 2019. In response, the European Parliament is considering a regulation to limit vessel speeds to 75% of their design speed within European waters.

A recent report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) suggests that such a speed limit could reduce ocean noise pollution from shipping by 25%, despite a projected 1.7% increase in the number of vessels. The risk of ship-whale collisions could decrease by 23%. Additionally, there would be an 8% reduction in fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, and air pollution, with potential annual savings of €3.4 billion to €4.5 billion, based on 2018 data. These figures do not account for potential logistical chain adjustments.

What challenges arise with VSR implementation?

A key advantage of vessel speed reduction (VSR) is its scalability, effective for ports of any size. Larger ports with faster vessels can significantly reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Smaller ports, however, often lack the staff to monitor VSR programs, and their lower traffic volume may not justify the investment.

Local factors can limit VSR adoption. Ports with complex layouts, narrow channels, or heavy traffic may face safety and navigation issues with slower speeds. Additionally, slower speeds could strain shipping capacity, causing delivery delays and port congestion unless shipping firms increase vessel numbers or optimize routes.

Implementing VSR also has financial drawbacks. Slower speeds increase transit times, potentially affecting delivery schedules and raising transportation costs. Mitigating these impacts is crucial. Collaboration between ports and shipping companies could establish incentives like lower port fees or fuel price assistance for VSR participants.

FAQs about Vessel Speed Reduction

Vessel speed reduction (VSR) refers to the practice of reducing the speed of ships to lower fuel consumption, minimize greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance maritime safety.

VSR is important because it significantly cuts down fuel usage, thereby reducing operational costs and decreasing the environmental impact of shipping by lowering carbon emissions.

By reducing ship speeds, VSR helps decrease the emission of harmful pollutants such as CO2, NOx, and SOx, contributing to better air quality and aiding in the fight against climate change.

Shipping companies benefit economically from VSR through lower fuel expenses, reduced maintenance costs due to less engine wear and tear, and potential compliance with environmental regulations that can prevent costly fines.

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