Co-operation on aerial surveillance within the Baltic Sea area was established already during the 1980s within the framework of HELCOM. Through the Helsinki Convention (Article 14, Annex VII Regulation 7) the Contracting Parties have agreed to develop and apply individually or in co-operation, surveillance activities covering the Baltic Sea area in order to spot and monitor oil and other substances released into the sea.
The Contracting Parties have also committed themselves to undertake appropriate measures to conduct the surveillance by using, inter alia, airborne surveillance equipped with remote sensing systems. In addition to the provisions of the Helsinki Convention, HELCOM Response Manual Volume, Chapter 6 specifies the procedures, equipment and reporting related to aerial surveillance.
HELCOM Recommendation 34E/4 recommends the Contracting Parties to take actions to cover the whole of the Baltic Sea area with regular and efficient airborne surveillance, develop and improve the existing remote sensing systems and to co-ordinate surveillance activities which take place outside territorial waters.
The purpose of this regional aerial surveillance is to detect spills of oil and other harmful substances and thus prevent violations of the existing regulations on prevention of pollution from ships. Such illegal spills are a form of pollution which threatens the marine environment of the Baltic Sea area. If possible, the identity of a polluter should be established and the spill should be sampled from both the sea surface and on board the suspected offender to enable prosecution.
The HELCOM Informal Working Group on Aerial Surveillance (IWGAS) works to implement the aerial surveillance cooperation and commitments. HELCOM Secretariat compiles annually data on illegal discharges observed in the Baltic Sea area during national and joint co-ordinated aerial surveillance activities.