Lowest Number of Illegal Oil Spills Ever Recorded in the Baltic Sea
4 May 2012, HELCOM Information Services – The trend is clear: Baltic Sea suffers from fewer illegal discharges from ships. According to the latest national annual reports provided by the Member States of HELCOM, a record low number of oil spills was detected by national surveillance aircrafts and satellites in 2011. The number of surveillance flight hours was the highest in six years.
Altogether 122 confirmed illegal oil discharges were observed in 2011, which is the lowest number of spills ever recorded in the Baltic Sea since the regular aerial surveillance started in 1988. Since 1999 the number of observed spills has declined by 75%
The estimated total volume of the spilled oil in 2011 was 24m3, which is 50% less than in 2010. Most individual spills (93%) were smaller than 1 m3. The small size of the spills follows the long term trend of decreasing spill sizes.
The total number of flight hours in 2011 was 5,541 which is close to record high, being higher only in 2005 (5,638 hours). As the number of flight hours varies between years, the best way to evaluate the number of illegal oil discharges is to present it as Pollution per Flight Hour (PF) Index. This index compares the total number of observed oil spills to the total number of flight hours. The PF index for 2011 was 0,022 which is the all-time lowest.
It is challenging to detect the offenders of illegal discharges and often the polluters remain unknown. In 2011 only in 9% of the cases the polluters were identified.
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 2011, 528 satellite images were delivered to the Baltic Sea countries, indicating 182 possible oil slicks. The satellite images are delivered in near real time to provide first indication of possible oil slicks which can then be verified on location by a vessel or aircraft. Up to 40% of the satellite detected slicks have been verified by the Baltic Sea countries, and in 8 cases the spill has been confirmed to be mineral oil.
The positive trend on decreasing spills is attributed to 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.
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Annual 2011 HELCOM report on illegal discharges observed during aerial surveillance can be downloaded here:
Co-operation on Baltic aerial surveillance was established in the 1980s within the HELCOM Framework, requiring the Member States to conduct regular surveillance outside their coastlines. This includes developing and applying, 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. If possible, the identity of a polluter should be established and a spill sampled from both the sea surface and the suspected offender on board.
Data on illegal discharges observed during national aerial surveillance activities of the coastal states in the Baltic Sea area are compiled by HELCOM every year.
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 further information, please contact:
Mr. Hermanni Backer
Tel: +358 (0)468509199
Fax: +358 (0)207 412 645
Ms. Johanna Laurila
Tel: +358 (0) 405238988
Fax: +358 (0)207 412 639