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During the MEPC 80 session, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the IMO approved the new URN guidelines proposed last January, related to underwater noise emitted by commercial maritime transport. TSI is a participant within the Spanish international committee and has been involved in these studies and research for the update of the guidelines.

During the assembly, the MEPC approved revised guidelines for the reduction of underwater noise in commercial maritime transport. These guidelines recognize commercial transport as the main emitter of underwater radiated noise (URN). Additionally, they provide guidance and considerations to decrease this type of pollution, which is highly detrimental to marine life.

The diffusion of guidelines for the reduction of URN in the Arctic Ocean and the Inuit Nunaat region was also approved, as it has been studied that the impact of underwater noise in these areas is more harmful to their marine fauna.

These guidelines also include the designation of the Northwestern Mediterranean Sea as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (NW Med PSSA), with the aim of protecting the local cetaceans and reducing underwater radiated noise from passing vessels. The creation of a plan to protect these sensitive marine areas is of vital importance due to their ecological, scientific, and socioeconomic value. Therefore, the IMO, International Maritime Organization, began developing the GloNoise Partnership project in 2023, which aims to address the issue of underwater noise in commercial maritime transport.

Commercial maritime transport is one of the main sources of artificial underwater noise, caused by human activity. This acoustic pollution has been increasing over the years. According to IMO data, it is estimated that in the last 60 years, the northern Pacific Ocean has been doubling its underwater noise every decade, meaning that every 10 years, underwater noise has doubled in intensity. These alarming figures significantly affect the lives of marine species, particularly mammals who rely on sound for essential life functions such as communication, reproduction, and foraging.

After a series of studies demonstrating the devastating effects of ship underwater noise on marine life, this issue was addressed in the IMO in 2004, but it was not until 2012 that the first regulation was adopted. The IMO adopted a regulation in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), requiring ships to comply with established noise levels on board, with the aim of reducing noise and protecting personnel on board. These noise levels were to be respected from the beginning of the construction process, and ships were required to have preventive measures to reduce noise. This regulation established mandatory maximum limits for noise levels in machinery spaces, control rooms, workshops, accommodations, and other areas of ships.

In 2014, the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MFSD) approved the first guidelines for reducing underwater noise from commercial shipping, known as “GUIDELINES FOR THE REDUCTION OF UNDERWATER NOISE FROM COMMERCIAL SHIPPING TO ADDRESS ADVERSE IMPACTS ON MARINE LIFE“.

It was not until 2021 that the first revision of the established guidelines was made. TSI has participated in the process of updating these guidelines to reduce underwater noise from commercial maritime transport. They were presented in January 2023 and subsequently approved at the 80th Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 80) held in July. These new guidelines include approaches applicable to designers, builders, and operators of ships to reduce underwater noise. Additionally, they reference international measurement standards, recommendations, and classification society standards.

TSI’s work has been fundamental in improving the regulation regarding underwater noise in commercial maritime transport. Thanks to their participation in the revision and update of the URN guidelines, more effective approaches and recommendations have been developed to reduce the impact of underwater noise on marine life.

Below are some useful links to find more information on this topic:

Infografía sobre ruido submarino.

Underwater noise infographic – TSI