Illegal discharges of oil in the Baltic Sea
Deliberate illegal oil discharges from ships are regularly observed within the Baltic Sea since 1988. As from 1999 the number of observed illegal oil discharges has decreased from approximately 500 to less than 400. This trend is reflected also in a decrease in the number of observed oil discharges per flight hour.
However, the numbers of illegal oil discharges observed during continuous surveillance of confined areas in the Baltic Sea, for 24 or more hours, does not support the general conclusion that the overall number of illegal oil discharges is decreasing. This might imply that the decrease is related to specific areas in the Baltic Sea with intense aerial surveillance and efficient law enforcement.
Figure 1. Annual number of observed illegal discharges by aerial surveillance in the whole Baltic Sea area in 1989-2002
Results and assessment
Figure 2. Location of oil spillages observed by aerial surveillance within the Baltic Sea Area 2002. Click the image to enlarge
Total number of observations: 344
Data by: DE, DK, EE, FI, LV, PL and SE
Oil is a major threat to Baltic Sea ecosystems. Every year many seabirds are killed by oil discharged by ships into the Baltic Sea and fauna and flora close to the shipping lanes are negatively affected. The same also sometimes applies to amenity beaches.
In the last decade maritime transportation has been growing steadily, reflecting the intensified co-operation and trade in the Baltic Sea region and a prospering economy.
An increase in the number of ships also increases the potential for increased numbers of illegal oil discharges. Both oil tankers and other kinds of ships are among the suspected offenders of illegal discharges.
Any discharge into the Baltic Sea of oil, or diluted mixtures containing oil in any form including crude oil, fuel oil, oil sludge, or refined products, is prohibited. This applies to oily water from the machinery spaces of any ship, as well as from ballast or cargo tanks from oil tankers.
The prohibition stems from the international designation of the Baltic Sea area as a “special area” under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78).
The Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, 1992 (the 1992 Helsinki Convention) spells out a duty for the States bordering on the Baltic Sea to conduct aerial surveillance for detecting suspected offenders of anti-pollution regulations at sea.
To uphold the prohibition the 1992 Helsinki Convention requires all ships, with some exceptions, to deliver the oil to a reception facility before leaving the port. To further encourage the delivery the countries bordering on the Baltic Sea have agreed that a ship should not be charged for using the reception facilities - also known as the no-special-fee system. The costs have to be covered e.g. by general harbour fees or general environmental fees.
Directive 2000/59/EC of 27 November 2000 has as its aim to reduce the discharges of ship-generated wastes and cargo residues into the sea, especially illegal discharges, by improving the availability and use of port reception facilities. When implementing the directive due regard shall be taken to the measures established under the 1992 Helsinki Convention.
Although the number of observations of illegal oil discharges has decreased slightly as regards the absolute number it is not possible to state an overall decrease. For some areas aerial surveillance is not evenly and regularly carried out and therefore there are no reliable figures for these areas. In other areas aerial surveillance has increased, including the use of remote sensing equipment, and therefore the absolute numbers of the observations of illegal oil discharges have increased in these areas.
The data has been collected by Response group - HELCOM RESPONSE
Table 1. Compiled data on performed flight hours by country in 1989-2002
Table 2. Compiled data on observed illegal oil discharges by country in 1988-2002
The data is gathered on the basis of national reports from the nine countries bordering on the Baltic Sea area and Contracting States to the 1992 Helsinki Convention.
Last update 3 September 2003