HELCOM achieves another decrease in the number of illicit oil spills in the Baltic
Helsinki, 24 August (HELCOM Information Service) - The number of deliberate, illegal oil discharges from ships annually observed by national surveillance planes, as well as satellites over the Baltic Sea area has decreased by more than 10% over the past year, and by more than 55% since 1999, according to a HELCOM study released today in Helsinki.
According to the national annual reports provided by the Member States to HELCOM, 210 illicit oil spills were detected during a total of 4,603 hours of surveillance flights conducted by the coastal countries over the Baltic Sea during 2008, compared to 238 discharges during a total of 3,969 air patrol hours in 2007, and 236 discharges observed during 5,128 air patrol hours in 2006.This is one of the lowest numbers since 1999, when 488 discharges were detected during 4,883 air patrol hours.
“The number and size of detected oil spillages in the Baltic Sea has been decreasing over the past years, even though the density of shipping has rapidly grown and the aerial surveillance activity in the countries has been substantially improved,” says Monika Stankiewicz, HELCOM’s Maritime and Response Professional Secretary. “We attribute this to the success of the complex set of measures known as the Baltic Strategy to prevent illegal discharges of oil and waste into the sea which the HELCOM countries have been implementing since the 1990s.”
Deliberate oil discharges from ships have been regularly observed during surveillance flights over the Baltic Sea since 1988. One of the peak years was 1989, when 763 spills were detected during 3,491 flight hours. Since 1999 the number of discharges has been steadily decreasing.
In 2008, most of the illegal oil discharges were detected along major shipping routes. 182 (87%) of the oil discharges detected in 2008 were smaller than one cubic metre, and of these oil spills as much as 148 were even smaller than 0.1 cubic metre or 100 litres. No confirmed oil spill was over 10 cubic metres in size and the total estimated volume of oil spills observed in 2008 amounted to 64 cubic metres. In 2007, there were four discharges of over 10 cubic metres, and the total estimated volume of oil spills amounted to 125.4 cubic metres.
In the vast majority of cases of detected illegal discharges polluters remain unknown. In 2008, out of the total number of confirmed illegal discharges as much as in 21 cases (10%) the polluters were identified, which is 14 more than in 2007.
Regular aerial surveillance flights have contributed significantly to the decrease in discharges, as ships are aware that their illicit polluting activities can be detected. The HELCOM aerial surveillance fleet today consists of more than 25 airplanes and helicopters, many of which are equipped with remote sensing equipment such as side-looking airborne radar (SLAR), infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) cameras, photo and video equipment.
HELCOM also uses satellite surveillance to detect illegal polluters. Satellite images are provided by the CleanSeaNet (CSN) satellite service of the European Maritime Safety Agency. In 2008, 608 satellite images were delivered to the Baltic Sea countries, indicating 413 possible oil slicks, of which 46 were eventually confirmed as being oil. Satellite images can indicate “candidates” for oil spills at sea, which can be further on verified on location by a vessel or aircraft.
Both aerial and satellite surveillance have contributed to the enforcement of the Baltic Strategy. The main objectives of the Strategy, which was operationalized by the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting in 1998, are to ensure ships' compliance with global and regional discharge regulations, and to eliminate illegal discharges into the sea of all wastes from all ships, and thus prevent pollution of the Baltic Sea. Another objective is to ensure the environmentally sound treatment of ship-generated wastes when these wastes have been delivered to port reception facilities ashore.
A blanket ban today covers all discharges into the Baltic Sea of oil or diluted mixtures containing oil in any form, including crude oil, fuel oil, oil sludge, or refined products. This prohibition stems from the international designation of the Baltic Sea as a “special area” under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78).
To uphold this prohibition, HELCOM requires all ships, with a few exceptions, to deliver all such oily wastes to reception facilities before leaving port. To further encourage delivery, the countries bordering the Baltic Sea have agreed that ships should not be charged for using such reception facilities, under the “no-special-fee” system. Costs are instead recovered from general harbour fees or general environmental fees.
The increased amounts of wastes now being delivered to the Baltic Sea ports illustrate that more and more ships are delivering their oily wastes to port reception facilities rather than illegally discharging them into the Baltic Sea.
Annual 2008 HELCOM report on illegal discharges observed during aerial surveillance (August 2009) http://www.helcom.fi/stc/files/shipping/spills2008.pdf.
Co-operation on aerial surveillance within the Baltic Sea area has been established within the framework of HELCOM, which requires the Member States to take measures to conduct regular surveillance outside their coastlines and to develop and apply, individually or in co-operation, surveillance activities covering the Baltic Sea area.
The purpose of aerial surveillance is to detect spills of oil and other harmful substances which can threaten the marine environment of the Baltic Sea area. If possible, an identity of a polluter should be established and a spill sampled from both the sea surface and on board the suspected offender.
Data on illegal discharges observed during national aerial surveillance activities of the coastal states in the Baltic Sea area are complied by HELCOM on annual basis.
Note to Editors:
The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, usually referred to as the Helsinki Commission, or HELCOM, is an intergovernmental organisation of all the nine Baltic Sea countries and the EU which works to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution.
HELCOM is the governing body of the "Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area," known as the Helsinki Convention.
For more information, please contact:
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