Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 1:07 pm | Fair 72º


Captain’s Log: Clean Fuel Only Zone Expands for Commercial Ocean Shipping

Preventing whale strikes wasn't the reason, but it should be a priority

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about efforts to slow the speed of the big commercial ships transiting the Santa Barbara Channel. The hope was to reduce whale strikes.

I noted that the solution would work no better than a leaf blower cleans up a mess because the speed reduction solution compels those ships to move outside the Channel Islands, where they can burn high-polluting fuel, travel fast and still run a grave risk of striking and killing or maiming whales.

A significant new game-changing development has emerged. The California Air Resources Board has expanded the Clean Fuel Regulatory Zone so that it extends 24 nautical miles seaward from the Channel Islands rather than from the mainland coast, as it currently stands. Why? Not to save whales, sadly, although I’m hopeful that the argument carried some weight.

The real reason for the expansion of the zone was that the Navy complained loudly about increased commercial shipping through its Point Mugu Sea Range, where it tests warfare resources and technology and where it engages in complex training programs. Delay of that testing and training can run into the tens of millions of dollars per day (more than is saved by the shipping companies by running through the area) and can possibly result in field deployment of resources that are not fully tested and result in troops not fully trained.

Personally, I feel more secure when our military resources and troops are adequately tested and trained, so I’m on the side of the Navy in this argument.

What does this mean with regards to pollution and ship strikes on whales? Plenty. Now, big commercial ships will have to move even farther offshore if they want to continue burning cheap, high-pollution “bunker” fuel and run around at high-speeds, risking injury and death to our whales.

The other option is to move shipping back inside the Channel Islands where they must burn more expensive but cleaner fuel. They are not yet absolutely required to slow down to save whales, and I can tell you from experience that few of them slow down on their own. So ship strikes on whales are still a deadly problem.

The shippers will crunch their numbers and perhaps make their decisions on where to travel based on fiscal considerations rather than clean air and safe whale considerations. Let us hope they make responsible decisions that result in cleaner air and safety for whales.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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