A decrease in the number of observed illegal oil discharges despite rapidly growing density of shipping, increased frequency of the surveillance flights and improved usage of remote sensing equipment is illustrating the positive results of the complex set of measures known as the Baltic Strategy, implemented by the Contracting Parties to the Helsinki Convention.
Results and Assessment
Oil is a major threat to Baltic Sea ecosystems. 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).
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 harbor fees or general environmental fees.
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. All coastal states should endeavor to fly - as a minimum - twice per week over regular traffic zones including approaches to major sea ports as well as in regions with regular offshore activities. Other regions with sporadic traffic and fishing activities should be covered once per week. Experienced observers/pilots shall hereby contribute reliable detections, classifications and quantification of observed pollution, their frequencies and geographical distributions.
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. The Directive recognizes and does not contradict with the procedures and mechanisms agreed by the Contracting Parties to the Helsinki Convention.
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 is gradually decreasing every year (from 488 in 1999 to 292 in 2003). Decrease in the number of observed illegal discharges despite rapidly growing density of shipping, increased frequency of the surveillance flights and improved usage of remote sensing equipment is illustrating the positive results of the complex set of measures known as a Baltic Strategy implemented by the Contracting Parties to the Helsinki Convention.
Also the Coordinated Extended Pollution Control Flights (CEPCO), which constitute continuous surveillance of specific areas in the Baltic Sea for 24 or more hours, identified decrease in illegal oil pollution:
2002 – CEPCO North – 15 detections; South - 2 detections
2003 – CEPCO North – 5 detections; South –4 detections
2004 – CEPCO North – 5 detections; South – no detections
Also increased amount of waste delivered to the Baltic Sea ports illustrate that more and more ships rather deliver oil waste to ports than illegally discharge into the Baltic Sea.
Although the number of observations of illegal oil discharges has been decreasing over last 5 years it should be kept in mind that for some areas aerial surveillance is not evenly and regularly carried out and therefore there are no reliable figures for 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 update7 October 2004