Successful oil disaster response operation at Pomeranian Bay
Twenty ships under the HELCOM flag conducted today a successful operation to contain and recover two simulated oil spills from vessels collided off the Polish coast in the Pomeranian Bay, as part of the annual Baltic Sea pollution response exercise Balex Delta 2015. A large-scale national onshore exercise was organized simultaneously for deployment of the clean-up units as well as coordination between all the actors involved.
For over 25 years HELCOM has sustained the international operational preparedness in maritime emergencies and polluting accidents at sea, in one of the most vulnerable and busiest sea areas in the world.
The largest maritime emergency and counter-pollution drill of its kind in the Baltic Sea area – and one of the largest worldwide – involve the release of simulated oil; the mobilization of pollution response vessels from several coastal countries; as well as the establishment of a unified command structure and communication system. In addition, a full-scale oil recovery operation at the site of the accident was set up, including actual deployment of oil containment booms and skimming equipment along with the onshore response of more than a hundred trained staff and 40 fire engines, and other necessary equipment.
Eight HELCOM Member States – Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden – took part in the exercise with both pollution-combating ships and smaller vessels with over 400 participants in total. Almost 50 observers from all the nine HELCOM countries as well as Brazil, Canada, Portugal and USA monitored the actions of the response units. The Exercise Evaluation Team consisted of representatives of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
"The fact that the HELCOM member states send their vessels each year for an international oil drill is globally rather special, as such a well-established framework is rare in other parts of the world. The Baltic Sea country crews have established a smooth cooperation over the years, and this was again a good opportunity to see what we're ready for and what needs further improvement,” says Heli Haapasaari, Chairman of HELCOM's Response Group.
“With such a large coinciding national drill on the shore, the exercise gave the host nation a bigger-than-usual opportunity to test its own capacity to command an international operation with a large response fleet, in addition to the action at shore with more complex communication and coordination tasks."
The aim of Balex Delta is to test the alarm procedures and the response capability of HELCOM members as well as national alarm procedures, including the capacity of each country to command a large international drill, and also evaluate staff functions and the cooperation between the countries’ combating units. This year the goals extended to the shore, for trying in practice the national onshore clean-up capabilities and the national wildlife response alert procedures. In addition, the 2015 drill had a main focus on communication between the involved units as well as the interaction between offshore response and clean-up units on the shore.
This year's HELCOM annual exercise was organized by the Polish Maritime Search and Rescue Service, Gdynia (Maritime part), and the West Pomeranian Regional Headquarters of the State Fire Service (Onshore part). The exercise involved a scenario where a middle size tanker collides with a smaller container vessel, resulting in oil slicks of 500 m3 and 150 m3 of heavy fuel oil from the drifting ships. Units from the HELCOM countries were tasked to jointly prevent the oil slicks from coming ashore to the nearby National Park and Natura 2000 areas. Having two sources of pollution on different locations, the pool of response vessels were divided into two groups. The oil spilt during the exercise was simulated by two large releases of environmentally-friendly expanded perlite (15 and 5 cubic metres). Expanded perlite is volcanic amorphous glass, fully non-toxic and similar than beach sand.
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. Regional cooperation on preparedness and response to pollution incidents has however much longer roots, being a part of the first 1974 Helsinki Convention and followed by a series of related Recommendations right at the start of the permanent HELCOM activities in early 1980s.
Today, with 80 per cent of global merchandise trade by volume carried by sea and handled by ports worldwide, the economic importance of maritime transport – and the risk of collisions and other accidents – cannot be overemphasized. In the Baltic Sea, ship traffic is dense and maritime transport has been in the increase in the recent past.
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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.
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For more information, please contact:
Chair of HELCOM Response Working Group
Finnish Environment Institute - SYKE
Tel: +358 40 1793050
Tel: +358 40 523 8988
Professional Secretary for Maritime and Response
Tel: +358 46 8509199
 UNCTAD, Review of Maritime Transport 2013.