HELCOM to conduct annual maritime oil spill response exercise

Pressmeddelande   •   Aug 30, 2007 10:27 CEST

Helsinki, 30 August (HELCOM Information Service) – The Helsinki Commission will conduct its annual international exercise BALEX DELTA 2007 on 6 September outside Tallinn, Estonia, to test the Baltic Sea countries’ readiness to respond to major oil accidents 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.

It is expected that 19 oil-pollution-combating ships and smaller vessels from eight HELCOM Member States - Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden, as well as surveillance aircraft and helicopters will take part in the exercise. Also, the European Union (which is one of the HELCOM Contracting Parties) will be represented by one response vessel chartered by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

The aim of the exercise is to test HELCOM response system, its command and communication system, as well as the co-operation between response units of the Baltic Sea countries. “This exercise is invaluable in maintaining the coastal countries’ preparedness to deal with a major oil accident at sea, “ says Thomas Fagö, Chairman of the HELCOM Response Group. “Timely, effective and joint response to such disasters requires constant practice. BALEX DELTA provides us with an important opportunity to test and improve the capabilities of the response units of the HELCOM Fleet before a real oil accident occurs. It also gives the host nation an excellent opportunity to test its own capacity to command and control an international operation with a large response fleet.”

This year's HELCOM annual exercise is organized by the Estonian Board of Border Guard. The exercise involves a scenario where an oil tanker carrying a cargo of around 100,000 tonnes of crude oil grounds off the west coast of the Estonian island of Naissaare, outside Tallinn. As a result of the grounding the oil tanker looses around 8,000 tonnes of its cargo drifting towards the Estonian coastline. Units from the HELCOM countries are tasked to jointly prevent the oil slick from coming ashore. The oil spilled during the exercise will be simulated by the release of a large amount of popcorn at the site of hypothetical grounding.

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.

Shipping traffic densities in the Baltic Sea are among the highest anywhere in the world. According to the HELCOM Automatic Identification System (AIS) for monitoring maritime traffic, each year around 52,000 ships ply the waters of the Baltic Sea. Approximately 60-70% of these ships are cargo vessels, and 17-25% are tankers. There are about 1,800 – 2,000 ships in the Baltic marine area at any given moment. The transportation of oil and other potentially hazardous cargoes is growing steeply and steadily. By 2015 a 40% increase is expected in the amounts of oil being shipped on the Baltic, which currently stand at 160 million tonnes of oil a year. 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 co-operation in the Baltic Sea region and a prospering economy, it also makes potentially polluting shipping accidents more likely. There are around 140 shipping accidents and over 200 detected illegal oil discharges recorded annually in the Baltic Sea area. 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 2000-2006, 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 Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), officially known as the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, is an intergovernmental organisation of the nine Baltic Sea coastal countries and the EU working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution and to ensure safety of navigation in the region.

HELCOM is the governing body of the "Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area," more usually known as the Helsinki Convention.

For more information, please contact:
Estonian Board of Border Control
Tel.: +372 614 9002
Press Section of the Board of the Border Guard
Tel.: +372 512 1067

Mr. Bruno Liik
Exercise Information Centre
Tel: + 372 53 48 3205

Mr. Tauno Mettis
Exercise Information Centre
Tel.: +372 50 51 099

Mr. Thomas Fagö
Tel: +46 (455) 353455

Ms. Monika Stankiewicz
HELCOM Professional Secretary
Tel: +358 (0)207 412 643

Mr. Nikolay Vlasov
HELCOM Information Secretary
Tel: +358 (0)207 412 635