Nearly two-thirds of ocean carriers serving the Port of Long Beach have signed up for the recently expanded Green Flag program, which requires ships to slow down near the port to cut pollution.

Aside from environmental benefits, the program offers a financial incentive for participating carriers that ranged from 15 percent to 25 percent off dockage fees.

"With today's economic climate, we know carriers are trying to save money and with our goal of trying to cut down on emissions, it's a good time to jump onboard," said Art Wong, spokesman for the Port of Long Beach.

The expanded program, which began in January, requires that ships slow down 40 miles away from San Pedro's Point Fermin to 12 knots per hour the equivalent to about 14 miles per hour on land in order to qualify for a 25 percent dockage fee reduction.

The original Green Flag program, which debuted in 2005, offered 15 percent off dockage fees for ships that slowed down within 20 miles of Point Fermin. Participants include South Korea's Hanjin Shipping and Japan's K-Line.

Participation in the 20-mile program climbed from 60 percent in 2006 to 93 percent in 2008, with carriers that participated last year collectively saving $1 million.

The average annual saving for the expanded program could be as much as $250,000 for the largest ocean carriers during busy times, and so far 63 of 100 eligible carriers have signed up. However, the port expects the average annual free reduction will be far less and has capped the total annual cost of the subsidies for both programs at $4 million.

Carriers can choose whether to participate in the 20- or 40-mile program, or not at all.

"Usually ships want to get to the dock the fastest to start unloading, but the savings might be worth taking the extra time," Wong said.

In order to qualify, participants have to abide by the speed limit in the 20- to 40-mile zone for at least 90 percent of the time within a calendar year. They also get a green flag to mount on their ships.

"We give them some breathing room just in case they occasionally have a shipment that is urgent," Wong said.

The Marine Exchange of Southern California, a private, independent organization, tracks cargo vessel speeds and reports them monthly to the port. According to its data, in 2007 the slowed speed reduced emissions by an estimated 678 tons of nitrogen oxide, 453 tons of sulfur oxide and 60 tons of diesel particulate matter.

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