By Mike Collier
TALLINN – There will be a major oil spill off the coast of Estonia next week when a supertanker carrying 100,000 tonnes of crude oil runs aground creating a potential environmental disaster in the Baltic Sea. Clean-up vessels from all over the Baltic Sea region will scramble to contain it and the damage to the environment will be… some soggy popcorn.
Sadly, this isn’t a case of The Baltic Times developing the power of second sight.
The Helsinki Commission will conduct its annual Balex Delta exercise Sep. 6, to test the Baltic Sea countries’ readiness to respond to major oil accidents.
This exercise is one of the largest of its kind worldwide and will involve the release of simulated oil, the deployment of pollution response vessels, the establishment of a unified command structure and communication system, and a full-scale oil recovery operation at the site of the accident, including deployment of oil containment booms.
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. The European Union will be represented by one response vessel chartered by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).
“This exercise is invaluable in maintaining the coastal countries’ preparedness to deal with a major oil accident at sea," said Thomas Fago, 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.”
The scenario envisages an oil tanker carrying a cargo of crude oil running aground off the west coast of the Estonian island of Naissaare, outside Tallinn. As a result of the grounding the oil tanker loses 8,000 tonnes of its cargo drifting towards the Estonian coastline. Units from the HELCOM countries are tasked to prevent the oil slick coming ashore.
In one of the more bizarre aspects of the exercise, the oil ‘spilled’ during the exercise will be simulated by the release of a large amount of popcorn.
Similar exercises have been held annually since 1989. The Baltic Sea countries have more than 30 response vessels located around the region which can reach any incident in 6 to 48 hours of an accident happening.
Around 140 shipping accidents and over 200 detected illegal oil discharges are recorded annually in the Baltic Sea.