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Charting a Quieter Course: Advancing Strategies to Mitigate Underwater Noise from Ships

Ira Breskin
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August 25, 2023

By Ira Breskin —

In January, International Maritime Organization delegates plan to present to senior leadership a revised plan to mitigate underwater noise from ships.

Specifically, the IMO’s Subcommittee on Ship Design and Construction early next year will offer to the parent Marine Environment Protection Committee a list of suggested steps to further reduce a ship’s noise footprint.

London-based IMO, which has authority to set marine acoustic standards, to date has focused on providing recommendations to improve hull design to increase noise resistance.

Other options to minimize harm to marine life are to mandate ship speed reductions and adjust routes to lessen travel through environmentally sensitive areas. In fact, environmentalists have called for creation of additional marine protected areas to advance protection efforts.

A previous subcommittee draft, forwarded to MEPC in January 2023, established that commercial shipping is one of the main contributors of underwater-radiated noise that harms a wide range of aquatic species.

Particularly vulnerable are marine mammals such as right whales that rely on sound to communicate. Noise is an environmental stressor for these creatures.

The IMO subcommittee, in its previous submission, offered revisions to a then 10-year-old study offering design tradeoffs that naval architects should consider when reviewing plans to reduce a commercial ship’s noise profile.

Should IMO member nations ultimately reach consensus on noise abatement rules, the organization will establish regulations designed to minimize ships’ generation of harmful underwater noise.

Subsequently members are obligated to enact enabling federal legislation and enforce it.

Ira Breskin is a senior lecturer at State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, NY and author of The Business of Shipping (9th edition, 2018), a primer that explains shipping economics, operations and regulations. 


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