Helsinki, 2 September (HELCOM Information Service) - As part of the Helsinki Commission's continued focus on maritime safety and disaster preparedness in the Baltic Sea area, a HELCOM flotilla of oil-combating ships on 27 August staged its annual international pollution response exercise BALEX DELTA 2008 simulating a major oil spill from an offshore platform outside Kaliningrad, Russia.
Up to 20 oil-pollution-combating ships and other vessels from six HELCOM Member States - Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden supported by helicopters took part in the exercise. Also, the European Union (which is one of the HELCOM Contracting Parties) was represented by one response vessel chartered by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). In addition, about 40 observers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden, as well as EMSA monitored the actions of the response units.
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.
"Overall the exercise was a success, even though bad weather at sea continually hindered the response operation," said Thomas Fagö, Chairman of the HELCOM Response Group. "We see that the HELCOM accident response system works, and works quite efficiently. But we need to continually improve our skills to ensure the HELCOM fleet is fully prepared and capable of responding to a major environmental disaster in the region. This is extremely important because the next time our ships meet under the HELCOM flag it could be a real accident."
This year's HELCOM annual exercise was organized by Russia's Federal Agency of Maritime and River Transport and the State Marine Pollution Control, Salvage & Rescue Administration. The exercise involved a scenario where a well on a Russian oil platform off the coast of Kaliningrad Oblast' blows out after a gas leak. As a result of the accident the platform catches fire and spews 1,200 tonnes of crude oil into the sea, which is drifting towards theRussian coastline. Following the firefighting operation and the evacuation of workers from the platform by a rescue helicopter, units from the HELCOM countries were tasked to deploy oil containment booms and skimming equipment to jointly collect oil from the sea and prevent the oil slick from coming ashore.
The discharged oil was simulated with expanded perlite, a lightweight, micro-porous mineral substance produced from a volcanic rock, which is white in colour and easily visible on the water surface.
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.
The issue of response to accidents at sea has a high priority within the Baltic Sea region. The Baltic Sea's unusual hydrographic, chemical and physical conditions make its waters extremely sensitive to pollution. Any large-scale oil spill could lead to an environmental catastrophe. The risk of such a spill occurring has increased substantially over the last decade, due to the rising number of cargo ships carrying large amounts of fuel, and the constantly increasing volumes of oil transported on the Baltic.
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 and to ensure safety of navigation.
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