New speed restrictions on ships sailing waters in eastern
Canada where North Atlantic right whales have been congregating have forced
cruise lines to shorten port stays and drop some calls.
For example, Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 will call at Sept-Iles
on Oct. 2 due to speed limits implemented for the west section of the Gulf of
St. Lawrence. The 151,000-gross-ton liner is one of the largest ships to visit
the fishing and mining town of 26,000 people.
Emergency rules adopted in mid-August limit all ships over
20 meters long to speeds of 10 mph or less in a vast swath stretching from the
northern shore of the St. Lawrence River south to near Prince Edward Island.
Cruise ships, which typically motor at 17 or 18 mph in the
area, now face fines of up to $25,000 for exceeding 10 mph in the restricted zone.
Canadian minister of transport Marc Garneau said the
slowdown will stay in place until the endangered whales migrate out of the
region, which could be sometime in September or October.
But a half-dozen cruise lines have already adapted their
schedules to the slower cruising speeds, shaving hours off of stays in ports to
make up the difference or moving their ships to spend more time out of the
"The problem is twofold," said Donna Spalding,
director of administration, CLIA Northwest and Canada. "We recognize the
speed restrictions were put in to protect the species at risk. The short notice
is an issue for cruise lines, because they have guests who were expecting a
certain product, but it's also a significant liability for the small communities
on the East Coast that rely very heavily on the fall season. For those
communities that were geared up for the business, it is a huge blow."
One port that has been impacted is the small Canadian town
of Gaspe on the western shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Cruise lines that
have dropped calls there include Norwegian Cruise Line and Regent Seven Seas
Cruises. Gaspe mayor Daniel Cote estimated that the town of 15,000 will lose
about $2.5 million as a result.
Also affected has been the Port of Charlottetown on Prince
Edward Island, which will lose an estimated 8,000 cruise passengers this season
as a result of 10 canceled calls from several cruise lines.
But some communities are benefitting. As cruise lines
revised their itineraries, Sydney, Nova Scotia, gained two calls from the
Norwegian Dawn, two from the Seven Seas Mariner and one from the Silver
Whisper, said Nicole MacAulay, acting manager of cruise marketing for the Port
of Sydney. "We're well outside of the [slow-speed] zone," MacAulay
Last year, Sept-Iles had a total of four cruise ship calls.
Cunard's first call there was scheduled to happen in 2018, but the line
requested to go there at the last minute to limit the impact of speed
Most cruise lines say their primary response has been to
shorten port calls to gain added cruising time. Holland America Line, for
example, has shifted departure or arrival times by about an hour on either end
of stops for its four ships that sail itineraries between Quebec City and
Transport Canada and the Canadian Department of Oceans and
Fisheries announced the reduced-speed zone on Aug. 11 after 10 whale deaths in
the gulf since June 7. Fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes were the
Spalding said the migratory pattern for the whales appears
to be changing. Previously, they spent more time off the coast of Maine, where
there is a defined sanctuary and detection buoys with hydrophones provide
real-time information to ship captains about the presence of whales, she said.
Ships slowed down when whales were detected. "Once
sounds confirm the whales have moved, the restrictions are lifted,"
If the migration pattern has changed permanently, a high
number of whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence pose problems for future cruise
seasons there, Spalding said. CLIA is working with the Canadian government to
address the issue.
"We believe there are other ways to be sure ships have
better information about where the whales are," she said.