HELCOM’s fleet conducts oil response exercise in rough weather off Klaipeda
Klaipeda, 24 August (HELCOM Information Service) - A fleet of oil-combating ships from the Baltic Sea countries joined under HELCOM’s flag tested its capabilities to deal with a massive oil spill during the annual international pollution response exercise BALEX DELTA 2010 held on Tuesday off Lithuania’s port of Klaipeda.
Seven oil-pollution-combating ships from seven HELCOM countries - Denmark, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden took part in the exercise. Also, the European Union (which is one of the HELCOM Members) was represented by one response vessel chartered by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).
The basic aim of the exercise, the largest maritime emergency and counter-pollution drill of its kind in the Baltic Sea area and one of the largest worldwide, was to test HELCOM’s accident response system, its command and communication system, as well as the co-operation between response units of the Baltic Sea countries in case of a major oil spill accident at sea.
“"The exercise gave us a good opportunity to see what we're ready for and what needs further improvement," said Kalervo Jolma, Vice-Chairman of the HELCOM Response Group. “Unfortunately, due to very rough weather conditions in the area of the exercise, units were not able to deploy their oil containment booms and skimming equipment. But they still had an opportunity to test their capability to jointly deal with accidents at sea working under one command.”
This year's HELCOM annual exercise was organized by the Lithuanian Navy. The exercise involved a scenario where an oil tanker after being loaded with around 100,000 tonnes of crude oil at the Butinge oil terminal runs aground off the Lithuanian coast, outside Klaipeda. As a result of the accident, the ship suffers a hull breach and leaks around 9,000 tonnes of oil drifting towards the Latvian coastline. Units from the HELCOM countries were tasked to jointly prevent the oil slick from coming ashore.
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 more than 45 open-sea going 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 being notified of an accident.
The Baltic Sea today is one of the busiest seas in the world, accounting for around 9% of total cargo and 11% of oil transportation in world traffic. According to the AIS data, vessels entered or left the Baltic Sea via Skaw 62,700 times last year. This number has increased by more than 20% since 2006. Approximately 46% of these ships were cargo vessels, 21% were tankers and 4.5% were passenger ships. There are about 2,000 ships in the Baltic marine area at any given moment, and each month around 3,500-5,000 ships ply the waters of the Baltic.
Forecasts indicate that due to economic growth, especially in the eastern part of the region, the maritime transport in the Baltic is expected to grow by 64% between 2003 and 2020. The amount of cargo shipped on the Baltic in 2008 was 822 million tonnes, with the fastest annual growth taking place in Russia. The transportation of oil and other potentially hazardous cargoes is growing steeply and steadily. In 2009, more than 251 million tonnes of oil were shipped on the Baltic. 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 cooperation in the Baltic Sea region and a prospering economy, it also makes potentially polluting shipping accidents more likely. In 2009, there were 105 shipping accidents, including 38 groundings and 34 collisions. 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 2000-2009, 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 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:
Mr. Kalervo Jolma
HELCOM Response Group
Tel: +358 (0)40 044 4686
Ms. Monika Stankiewicz
Tel: +358 (0)40 840 2471
Fax: +358 (0)207 412 645
Mr. Nikolay Vlasov
Tel: +358 (0)46 850 9196
Fax: +358 (0)207 412 645