Underwater noise workshop deadline nears

Paul Gunton
Paul Gunton

08 January 2019

There are just a few days left to get involved in a technical workshop that will explore how ship design improvements can reduce underwater noise. It is being organised by Transport Canada at IMO’s London headquarters on 31 January and 1 February and comes at a time when the impact of noise on marine life is becoming a significant concern. The deadline to register is 10 January and a there is a link at the end of this article to get involved.

It is open to “all with expertise in ship design and its effect on underwater radiated noise” and IMO has circulated a letter to its member states encouraging them to make their national experts aware of the event.

A Transport Canada spokeswoman, Sau Sau Liu, told ShipInsight that commercial shipping “is the largest global contributor of underwater noise to the ocean soundscape” and that Canada “has been working to advance international collaboration to reduce underwater noise from vessels” for the past two years, working through IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).

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She said that MEPC chairman Hideaki Saito has asked that Canada report the results from the workshop to MEPC 74, which will be held in May.

It was promoted during MEPC 73 in October 2018, when a member of the Canadian delegation said that its purpose will be “to provide participants with an opportunity to assess current and future quiet ship designs and share recent research findings with a view to reducing the impacts of underwater noise on the marine environment.”

In an information document submitted to MEPC 73, (MEPC 73/INF .23), Canada’s IMO delegation said “there are strategies and measures that can be used to mitigate underwater noise levels.” It said that “by changing ship speed, vessel load, operational mode or improving hull or propeller designs, vessel noise emissions can be mitigated.” That document can be read in full via IMO’s documents website, IMO DOCS; a simple registration process provides access to material submitted to past IMO committee meetings.

MEPC 73 also considered a document submitted jointly by Canada and New Zealand on furthering international efforts to reduce the adverse impacts of underwater noise from commercial ships. That document, MEPC 73/18/4, can also be found via IMO DOCS.

MEPC 73 did not make any specific decisions in connection with underwater noise but Ms Liu said that its submissions had been well received “with several IMO member states and organisations expressing their support.” As a result, she expects that more than 100 international experts will attend the technical workshop.

In preparation for that meeting, a symposium was held in Canada on 28-29 November to create a draft working document as a starting point for the international workshop. It attracted 69 participants from across Canada’s shipping sector and took place in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was jointly organised by Transport Canada and the Canadian Network for Innovative Shipbuilding, Marine Research and Training (CISMaRT) and formed part of CISMaRT’s three-day 2018 workshop, whose first day was devoted to other shipping research projects.

Dr Wei Qui, who heads the Department of Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, is CISMaRT’s chair. He told ShipInsight last week (3 January) that the symposium’s draft report had not been released but “will be available for comments by workshop participants later this month.”

That workshop will be the latest in a number of events and studies in recent years aimed at addressing underwater noise. IMO itself published some Guidelines for the Reduction of Underwater Noise from Commercial Shipping to Address Adverse Impacts on Marine Life in 2014 (MEPC.1/Circ.833, which can be found via IMO DOCS), but they provide only general guidance and do not set any noise output standards or offer any methods for noise reduction.

One of the most recent detailed discussions on the topic took place in June 2018 at the 19th meeting of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process (UN ICP), which considered underwater noise caused by human activity. All the documents submitted to that meeting are available – without registration – on the UN website.

One paper in particular, which was submitted by the UN secretary general, sets out a range of causes and effects of this noise and makes it clear that there is still much to discover. “There are significant data and knowledge gaps in relation to anthropogenic underwater sound and its impacts on the marine environment,” it says and “most of the research so far has focused on marine mammals, with very few studies on fish and invertebrates.”

A European Commission-backed project called AQUO (Achieve Quieter Oceans), which ended in 2015, went a step further than IMO’s guidelines and produced a list of design and technology-based solutions that could reduce underwater noise. Then in 2017, four post-doctoral scholars at San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography worked with Maersk to produce a paper, Underwater noise comparison of pre- and post-retrofitted Maersk G-class container vessels, which found that retrofits intended to reduce fuel consumption also reduced noise.

One way to reduce underwater noise is simply to slow down, according to an ongoing initiative by Canada’s Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. Its Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) programme is exploring four “key threats to whales” along the southern coast of British Columbia, one of which is underwater noise.

In 2017 and again in 2018 it coordinated a voluntary scheme in which it would alert participating vessels when southern resident killer whales had been sighted in the Haro Strait so that they could reduce speed to recommended levels. For 2018, that programme ran from 1 July until 31 October while another scheme invited participants to reroute away from whale feeding areas to reduce underwater noise in those locations. That trial ran from 20 August until 31 October.

Details of both projects and its regular newsletters are available online and the final newsletter, dated 15 November, reported that a large majority of vessels operating in the area cooperated with the experiments. Results of both initiatives will be available in the northern hemisphere’s spring. Last year’s report, covering 2017, can be read here.

There is no doubt that underwater noise is an aspect of ship design that will grow in importance, which has been acknowledged by five class societies so far that have developed notations to recognise vessels that incorporate suitable features. In this environment, the technical workshop planned for the end of this month may prove to be a pivotal event in setting a direction for future requirements.

ShipInsight will attend the discussions; to take part, register here or, for more information, contact Michelle Sanders at Transport Canada.