HELCOM fleet stages live disaster exercise off Estonia
Tallinn, 6 September (HELCOM Information Service) – A fleet of oil-combating ships from the Baltic Sea countries joined under HELCOM’s flag conducted a successful operation to contain and recover a simulated massive oil spill from a 100,000 tonne tanker grounded off Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, as part of the international oil spill response exercise BALEX DELTA 2007, held on Thursday.
Seventeen oil-pollution response ships and smaller vessels from six HELCOM Member States - Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Poland, Sweden - and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), supported by helicopters, took part in this annual operational exercise designed to test the coastal states’ capabilities to jointly deal with a major environmental disaster at sea.
BALEX DELTA, the largest maritime emergency and counter-pollution drill of its kind in the Baltic marine area and one of the largest worldwide, involved the release of simulated oil from a grounded tanker, the deployment of pollution response vessels from the coastal countries, the establishment of a unified command structure and communication system, and a full-scale oil recovery operation at the site of the accident, including actual deployment of oil containment booms and skimming.
“The exercise was a success and the mission assigned was fully accomplished, despite the rough weather conditions at sea, testing both equipment and personnel” said Thomas Fagö, Chairman of the HELCOM Response Group. “As expected, it also uncovered some issues that will have to be addressed in order to make this operation even more efficient. But overall the results of BALEX DELTA 2007 demonstrate that we have considerably improved our response capabilities over the past years and are now more than ever prepared and capable of dealing with a major oil accident at sea,” added Fagö.
The main aim of the exercise was to test HELCOM’s response system, its command structure and communication system, as well as the cooperation and coordination between various response units of the Baltic Sea countries. Also, one of the main goals of the exercise was to test the response times. An immediate response within hours to an oil accident is critical and may well avert a serious situation developing into an environmental disaster.
The Chairman of the HELCOM Response Group underlined the crucial importance of such exercises for maintaining the coastal countries’ preparedness to deal with a major oil accident at sea. “Timely, effective and joint response to such disasters requires constant practice. BALEX DELTA provides us with an important opportunity to test and improve the capabilities of the response units of the HELCOM Fleet before a real oil accident occurs. It also gives the host nation an excellent opportunity to test its own capacity to command and control an international operation with a large response fleet,” said Fagö.
This year's HELCOM annual exercise was organized by the Estonian Board of Border Guard. The exercise involved a scenario where a large oil tanker carrying a cargo of around 100,000 tonnes of crude oil runs aground off the west coast of the Estonian island of Naissaare, outside Tallinn. As a result of the grounding the oil tanker looses around 20,000 tonnes of its cargo drifting towards the Estonian coastline. Units from the HELCOM countries were tasked to jointly prevent the oil slick from coming ashore. The oil spilled during the exercise was simulated by the release of a large amount (216 kg) of popcorn at the site of hypothetical grounding.
BALEX DELTA operational response exercises have been held annually since 1989. Throughout this time HELCOM has steadily improved the readiness of the countries around the Baltic to jointly respond to oil spills at sea. The Baltic Sea countries now have a total of more than 30 response vessels that are located around the region. These vessels are able to reach any place in the Baltic Sea within 6 to 48 hours of notification of an accident.
Shipping traffic densities in the Baltic Sea are among the highest anywhere in the world. According to the HELCOM Automatic Identification System (AIS) for monitoring maritime traffic, each year around 52,000 ships ply the waters of the Baltic Sea. Approximately 60-70% of these ships are cargo vessels, and 17-25% are tankers. There are about 1,800 – 2,000 ships in the Baltic marine area at any given moment. The transportation of oil and other potentially hazardous cargoes is growing steeply and steadily. By 2015 a 40% increase is expected in the amounts of oil being shipped on the Baltic, which currently stand at 160 million tonnes of oil a year. The use of much bigger tankers is also expected to rise – there will be more tankers in the Baltic carrying 100,000-150,000 tonnes of oil.
Although growing traffic is a positive sign of intensified co-operation in the Baltic Sea region and a prospering economy, it also makes potentially polluting shipping accidents more likely. There are around 140 shipping accidents and over 200 detected illegal oil discharges recorded annually in the Baltic Sea area. Fortunately, most of the accidents in the Baltic do not cause notable pollution, but even one large-scale accident would seriously threaten the marine environment. Over the period 2000-2006, an average of 7% of all reported accidents resulted in some kind of pollution. Two of the five most serious accidents in the Baltic marine area have occurred since 2001 – involving “Baltic Carrier” in 2001 (2,700 tonnes of oil spilt), and “Fu Shan Hai” in 2003 (1,200 tonnes of oil spilt).
Note to Editors:
The Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), officially known as the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, is an intergovernmental organisation of the nine Baltic Sea coastal countries and the EU working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution and to ensure safety of navigation in the region.
HELCOM is the governing body of the "Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area," more usually known as the Helsinki Convention.
For more information, please contact:
Mr. Thomas Fagö
Chairman of HELCOM RESPONSE
Tel: +46 455 353455
Ms. Monika Stankiewicz
Tel: +358 (0)207 412 643
Fax: +358 (0)207 412 639
Mr. Nikolay Vlasov
Tel: +358 (0)207 412 635
Fax: +358 (0)207 412 639