International shipping giant MSC Group announced on Thursday it would change its shipping route in Sri Lankan waters to save endangered blue whales and avoid collisions with whales, dolphins and porpoises.
For years, international and local environmentalists have urged Sri Lankan authorities to move the east-west shipping routes further offshore to protect marine animals, but so far, the government hasn’t responded.
The southern coast of Sri Lanka is one of the world’s busiest international shipping lanes. According to environmental organizations OceanCare and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), around twelve blue whales have been killed in collisions with huge commercial transport ships in the last ten years.
OceanCare and IFAW had asked MSC Group directly to help protect endangered blue whales in the Indian Ocean by changing its route, which the shipping giant agreed to.
The decision means that MSC container ships will now avoid an area in the Indian Ocean where blue whales are known to gather. MSC has also ordered its smaller vessels in the area to slow down in blue whale habitats.
“By ensuring these small changes (re-routing), MSC is making a significant difference for these endangered whales. Whales often die as a result of collisions, and this population (northern Indian blue whales) is at risk,” Sharon Livermore, director of marine conservation at IFAW, said.
“Re-routeing is the key hope to turn the tide for blue whales off Sri Lanka,” Nicolas Entrup, director of international relations at OceanCare, said. He hoped that this move would encourage the Sri Lankan government to move the shipping lane for all transport vessels to save blue whales.
Blue whales are the largest living animals on earth. They can grow to around 30 meters and weigh as much as 180 tonnes. The animals are listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
In June, the German Shipowners’ Association also called upon its 150 member companies to re-route vessels in the Mediterranean to protect endangered sperm whales.