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HELCOM recently published its report on aerial surveillance of discharges at sea in 2018, confirming the trend of reduction of spills in the Baltic Sea, especially mineral oils.

Despite 62 spills observed in 2018 being slightly higher than last year – with 52 incidents, the lowest on record – overall trends are pointing towards a steady decrease. Aerial surveillance of spills started almost thirty years ago in 1989, when 763 pollution occurrences were detected.

"Coupled to the AIS system that is in place in the Baltic Sea and that monitors movements of ships as well as cleaner shipping practices, aerial surveillance has proven to be an effective deterrent for illegal discharges at sea," said Markus Helavuori, the HELCOM Professional Secretary for maritime affairs.

In 2018, mineral oil accounted for less than half of all detected spills. The majority of detections were classified as "other" and "unknown" substances, consisting for instance of chemicals, hazardous substances, vegetable oils or greywaters from ships – such as from showers and kitchens.

"The lack of appropriate sensor systems available to identify such spills by aerial surveillance are still of concern, as some of these substances may pose a threat to the marine environment," said Helavuori.

Currently coordinated by the HELCOM Informal Working Group on Aerial Surveillance (IWGAS), surveillance of spills started in 1989 to detect spills of mineral oil. Since 2014, spills of other and unknown substances have been added to the reporting.

Through the Helsinki Convention (Article 14, Annex VII, Regulation 7), the HELCOM members – the nine Baltic countries and the European Union – have agreed to monitor pollution incidents and spills, making "necessary assessments of the situation and [taking] adequate response action in order to avoid or minimize subsequent pollution effects."

The HELCOM Recommendation 34E/4 further advises to monitor the whole of the Baltic Sea area with regular airborne surveillance, to develop and improve the existing remote sensing systems, and to coordinate surveillance activities which take place outside territorial waters.