HELCOM to stage a disaster response operation off Bornholm
Helsinki, 12 July (HELCOM Information Service) – The Helsinki Commission for the protection of the Baltic marine environment will conduct its annual maritime exercise BALEX DELTA 2011 on 30 August off the Danish island of Bornholm to test the Baltic Sea countries’ preparedness to jointly respond to a major oil spill accident at sea.
This operational exercise, the largest maritime emergency and counter-pollution drill of its kind in the Baltic Sea area and one of the largest worldwide, will involve the release of simulated oil, 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 equipment. Additionally, the exercise will include oiled wildlife response and shoreline clean-up part.
It is expected that 14 oil-pollution-combating ships and smaller vessels from eight HELCOM countries - Denmark, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden, as well as a Danish pollution patrol aircraft will take part in the exercise. Also, the European Union (which is one of the HELCOM Members) will be represented by one response vessel chartered by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). In addition, over 20 observers from all the Baltic Sea countries, as well as EMSA will be monitoring the actions of the response units. The Exercise Evaluation Team will consist of representatives of Denmark, Finland and Lithuania.
The aim of exercise is to test HELCOM’s response system, its command and communication structure, the cooperation between the response units of the Baltic Sea countries, as well as their capability and efficiency.
“Annual BALEX DELTA exercises provide an excellent opportunity for response crew and vessels from all the Baltic Sea countries to jointly test their capabilities to respond to a major oil spill with an ultimate goal to prevent the pollution reaching the shore and destroying sensitive coastal ecosystems," says Bernt Stedt, Chairman of the HELCOM Response Group. “These field exercises are a backbone of our efforts to maintain and strengthen the readiness to deploy in case of a real disaster situation.”
This year's HELCOM annual exercise is organized by the Admiral Danish Fleet. The exercise involves a scenario where an oil tanker collides with a coaster in the waters between Sweden and Denmark. As a result of the accident, the ship suffers a hull breach and leaks around 5,000 tonnes of crude oil drifting towards Bornholm. Units from the HELCOM countries are tasked to jointly prevent the oil slick from coming ashore. Some of the oil will anyway reach the shore, and there will be an oiled wildlife response and shoreline clean-up operation. It is expected that the oil spilled during the exercise will be simulated by the release of a large amount of popcorn at the site of hypothetical collision.
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 in 2009. 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:
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