ECONOMYNEXT – A proposal to shift the shipping route around Sri Lanka’s south coast is being considered given increasing indications of whales, a top tourist attraction, being killed after being hit by passing merchant ships.
The whales navigate on the same route as merchant ships on the main East-West shipping route across the Indian Ocean which skirts the island’s south coast, a conference in Colombo was told.
“We feel there is a need to be certain of the information about ship strikes,” said Hiran Jayawardene, secretary general of the Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Co-operation which organised the conference to bring different stakeholders together to discuss the issue.
“There are clear indications these animals are being struck by ships.”
Jayawardene said there was a need to see if there is enough information to change shipping lanes which are vital to the island economy.
“We have a strategic location, Colombo port is a hub port and vital to Sri Lank’s economy,” he said.
“We have invested heavily in Sri Lankan ports and we don’t want to take the slightest risk in affecting their performance.”
Sri Lanka established a traffic separation scheme off Dondra Head on the south coast to guide ships passing each other, heading east and west.
Conservation groups have proposed shifting the shipping route about 15 nautical miles offshore to reduce the risk of collisions between ships and whales.
The area is the feeding ground for whales, especially blue whales, the conference was told.
Sri Lankan authorities face a dilemma with whales being important for the economy, being a top tourist draw, as are the island’s ports, especially Colombo, south Asia’s container transhipment hub.