large container ship on the horizon and a whale's tail fin sticking out of the ocean in the foreground

BIMCO joins industry in calling for establishment of a new traffic separation scheme south of Sri Lanka

Published: 01 June 2023

BIMCO has joined with a number of industry bodies and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to submit a paper to the upcoming meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC 80). The paper calls for the establishment of a new traffic separation scheme (TSS) south of Sri Lanka to protect marine species including the endangered Blue Whale.

Just off the coast of Sri Lanka lies an area of the sea characterised by enhanced biological productivity – a result of ocean upwelling.

This area serves as a major feeding ground for a broad variety of marine species, including a substantial proportion of the northern Indian Ocean population of endangered blue whales - known to be present in these waters year-round. However, these waters are also home to a significant amount of shipping traffic. The traffic separation scheme (TSS) located south of Dondra Head serves one of the largest marine trade lanes in the world. It is used by thousands of ships engaged in trade between Asia and Europe as well as important trade bound for destinations in the Indian Ocean and other locations connected to this major East-West marine traffic corridor.

Monitoring data indicate that over 40,000 ships transit through these waters every year.

Blue whales off Sri Lanka were first recorded in the early 1980s and so this important blue whale habitat was not considered during the planning and establishment of the existing TSS. The fact that the TSS overlies this major marine feeding zone has led to three problems that present significant environmental and safety issues. These are:

  • Collisions with whales (ship strikes) by ships
  • The risk of collision for larger ships with small fishing vessels and other craft taking advantage of the productive waters
  • More ships travelling south of the TSS to avoid the risk of collisions but without the explicit navigational safety benefits that a new IMO approved traffic separation scheme would provide.

The risk of collisions with whales, small fishing vessels and whale watching boats in the existing TSS is wholly unnecessary and has led to the industry (including BIMCO and the co-sponsors of the paper) looking into the potential establishment of a voluntary TSS to avoid and mitigate the significant safety and environmental risks we see today. However, it is our belief that these risks would be most effectively addressed by establishing a new TSS outside Sri Lankan territorial waters roughly 15 nm south of the existing TSS that was first established in 1980 and we urge IMO to consider this.

If you are a member of BIMCO, please feel free to contact the BIMCO secretariat to learn more. We will communicate the outcome of the MEPC 80 deliberations on this topic, which will take place in early July 2023, in due course. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletters.

Beverley Mackenzie


Dr. Bev Mackenzie

Head of Intergovernmental Engagement

London, United Kingdom