Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

 

Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

HELCOM updates its online tool for assessing the risk of introduction of alien species via ballast water

Aliens in the Baltic Sea? Not if shipping managers utilize the free online tool developed by HELCOM and OSPAR to minimise the introduction of non-indigenous species (NIS, also known as alien species) via the ballast water of ships. The tool has recently been updated as part of the Interreg COMPLETE project

“The updated tool now makes it even easier to evaluate the risk of introduction of alien species by ships traveling between two ports in the HELCOM-OSPAR area,” said Manuel Sala-Pérez, the COMPLETE project’s coordinator at HELCOM.  

Alien species often travel with ballast water in ships, being sucked up into ships in one port and then discarded in another where they could potentially proliferate, take over habitats and disrupt the food chain and existing biodiversity. “For fragile marine ecosystems such as the Baltic Sea, NIS can be a serious issue,” cautioned Sala-Pérez. 

The free online tool, the so-called Ballast Water Exemptions Decision Support Tool, assesses the risk of introduction of NIS in a simple way, yet based on the latest scientific knowledge on the occurrence and distribution of species as well as the environmental characteristics of each port. 

“The online tool is now more user-friendly and contains improved GIS functionalities and data visualisations,” said Sala-Pérez, adding that it also includes updates to the underlying technology such as databases and algorithms. “It should be the go-to tool for whoever is dealing with ballast water management in the Baltic and North Seas.”  

COMPLETE is an EU INTERREG Baltic Sea Region project aimed at minimizing the introduction and spread of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens by shipping, notably via ballast water and biofouling. In the project, HELCOM led the activity tasked with updating the NIS online tool. 

HELCOM further took part in the development of a proposal for a Baltic Sea Biofouling Roadmap and a HELCOM monitoring programme on NIS. It also participated in the review process of the HELCOM-OSPAR Joint Harmonised Procedure on ballast water exemptions, particularly on risk assessments of NIS introductions, and the update of the selection criteria for target species.

Handling of wastewater from ships in ports of the Baltic Sea is facilitated by new guidance

The handling of wastewater from ships in ports of the Baltic Sea just got easier with the newly published Technical Guidance for the handling of wastewater in Ports of the Baltic Sea Special Area under MARPOL Annex IV.

Intended for shipowners, port operators, local administrations as well as municipal wastewater companies, the Technical Guidance was developed to facilitate the management of wastewater from ships to better comply with IMO regulations on wastewater handling in the Baltic Sea region. 

In 2011, the IMO designated the Baltic Sea a Special Area for sewage discharges from passenger ships, directing passenger ships operating in the Baltic Sea and not equipped with an on-board sewage treatment facility to discharge their sewage – or black water – at port, in a so-called port reception facility (PRF). 

“Initial experiences show that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution,” said Susanne Heitmüller, the Chair of HELCOM Maritime, the HELCOM working group that deals with shipping-related topics. “Almost each port, with its own, specific infrastructure requirements, needs a tailored solution,” she added.

The current lack of experience with sewage handling in ports requires the development of new and innovative approaches to manage these new challenges. The Technical Guidance for the handling of wastewater in ports was produced to fill this gap and offer a wide range of possible options to several scenarios ships and ports may face. 

“The Technical Guidance sets out probable problems a port may encounter, and presents possible solutions on the different aspects of the management of wastewater from ships,” said Heitmüller.

Under the IMO regulations, all newly built passenger ships after June 2019 are required to comply to stricter rules on wastewater discharges, while older passenger ships will have to comply to the same rules by June 2021, with some exceptions until June 2023 for ships en route directly to or from a port located outside the Baltic Sea and to or from a port located east of longitude 28˚10′ E.

According to the rules, passenger ships which carry more than 12 passengers will have to either discharge sewage into port reception facilities, or alternatively at sea – provided that nutrients have been reduced by 70% for nitrogen and 80% for phosphorus through on-board treatment. 

Untreated wastewater has been identified as an important source of both hazardous substances and nutrients, the main cause of eutrophication leading to unwanted growth of blue-green algae that upset the Baltic Sea’s biodiversity.

Published by HELCOM, the Technical Guidance was developed by the Development and Assessment Institute in Waste Water Technology at RWTH Aachen University (PIA) on behalf of the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency of Germany (BSH) and in collaboration with the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI).

BSAP update is a top priority for the HELCOM group on maritime matters

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MARITIME 19-2019 met at the EMSA premises in Lisbon. Photo: HELCOM

With an entire day dedicated to its discussion, the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was the driving theme of the 19th Meeting of the HELCOM Maritime Working Group (MARITIME 19-2019) that was held in Lisbon, Portugal, from 23 to 26 September 2019.

The BSAP is scheduled to be updated in 2021 and currently contains a set of objectives on maritime activities under the main goal of achieving “Environmentally friendly maritime activities.”

On the sea-based objectives, actions are expected to also touch upon activities beyond shipping such as loss and disturbance of the seabed, fisheries and dredging. Pressing issues such as non-indigenous species, underwater noise, wastewater management and emissions from ships are also expected to prominently feature in the update.

To better accompany the BSAP’s update process, MARITIME 19-2019 agreed to set up a Correspondence Group that will begin its work in the course of autumn 2019. The group will reflect on existing actions and review proposals on new actions for the BSAP.

In addition to the BSAP, issues pertaining to ballast water and biofouling, emissions, waste, port reception facilities (PRF), and accidents were also discussed in Lisbon.

Furthermore, Maja Markovčić Kostelac, Executive Director of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), who opened the meeting, emphasized the longstanding cooperation between EMSA and HELCOM, particularly highlighting the planned use of EMCIP data in the annual HELCOM reports on ship accidents in the Baltic Sea.

Anna Petersson, Sweden, who stepped down as Chair of the HELCOM Maritime Group, was thanked for her long-term dedication and excellent guidance from 2014 to 2019. She is followed by Susanne Heitmüller, Germany, who was elected along with the re-election of Vice-Chairs Natalia Kutaeva, Russia and Jorma Kämäräinen, Finland.

Hosted by the European Union, at the premises of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) in Lisbon, MARITIME 19-2019 was attended by all HELCOM Contracting Parties except for Lithuania, as well as by observers from the Baltic Pilotage Authorities Commission (BPAC), Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB), Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Europe and the European Boating Association (EBA).

Read the MARITIME 19-2019 outcomes

HELCOM publishes its report on aerial surveillance of discharges at sea in 2018

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HELCOM recently published its report on aerial surveillance of discharges at sea in 2018, confirming the trend of reduction of spills in the Baltic Sea, especially mineral oils.

Despite 62 spills observed in 2018 being slightly higher than last year – with 52 incidents, the lowest on record – overall trends are pointing towards a steady decrease. Aerial surveillance of spills started almost thirty years ago in 1989, when 763 pollution occurrences were detected.

“Coupled to the AIS system that is in place in the Baltic Sea and that monitors movements of ships as well as cleaner shipping practices, aerial surveillance has proven to be an effective deterrent for illegal discharges at sea,” said Markus Helavuori, the HELCOM Professional Secretary for maritime affairs.

In 2018, mineral oil accounted for less than half of all detected spills. The majority of detections were classified as “other” and “unknown” substances, consisting for instance of chemicals, hazardous substances, vegetable oils or greywaters from ships – such as from showers and kitchens.

“The lack of appropriate sensor systems available to identify such spills by aerial surveillance are still of concern, as some of these substances may pose a threat to the marine environment,” said Helavuori.

Currently coordinated by the HELCOM Informal Working Group on Aerial Surveillance (IWGAS), surveillance of spills started in 1989 to detect spills of mineral oil. Since 2014, spills of other and unknown substances have been added to the reporting.

Through the Helsinki Convention (Article 14, Annex VII, Regulation 7), the HELCOM members – the nine Baltic countries and the European Union – have agreed to monitor pollution incidents and spills, making “necessary assessments of the situation and [taking] adequate response action in order to avoid or minimize subsequent pollution effects.”

The HELCOM Recommendation 34E/4 further advises to monitor the whole of the Baltic Sea area with regular airborne surveillance, to develop and improve the existing remote sensing systems, and to coordinate surveillance activities which take place outside territorial waters.

HELCOM sails through shipping-heavy week

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Early September was shipping-intensive, with HELCOM participating in three events on maritime activities in Sweden.

HELCOM first promoted cleaner shipping at the Donsö Shipping Meet (DSM19), a biennial gathering of private sector and other stakeholders on shipping technologies where delegates from all over the world met on the Swedish island of Donsö from 3 to 4 September 2019.

HELCOM attended the DSM19 together with the Clean Shipping Project Platform (CSHIPP) that brings together projects and organisations to thrust ahead clean shipping in the Baltic Sea region. The objective of CSHIPP is to increase the impact of and connect the dots between the several Baltic Sea projects on clean shipping.

Also on Donsö, green fuel technology and cleaner shipping was on the agenda of the HELCOM Green Team meeting on 4 September 2019. HELCOM Green Team promotes public and private co-operation at national and Baltic Sea levels to enhance development and uptake of green technology and alternative fuels in shipping.

To better understand the main barriers hindering the adoption of green shipping technologies and alternative fuels in the Baltic Sea, Green Team earlier established a reporting mechanism that was reviewed during the meeting and which highlighted alternative fuels infrastructure, biofuels, financing and onshore power supply as particular challenges.

Last but not least, HELCOM participated in the Shipping and the Environment II conference in Gothenburg, Sweden from 4 to 6 September, where HELCOM held a policy workshop on the future needs on clean shipping in the Baltic Sea region. The results of discussions – notably about onshore power, use of scrubbers and biofouling – are intended to be presented to Maritime, the HELCOM working group dealing with shipping-related matters.

The conference also focussed on policies and strategies for a more environmentally sustainable shipping sector taking into account climate change, good air quality in coastal regions as well as good environmental status of marine and coastal land ecosystems in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Shipping is a major action area for HELCOM, with particular emphasis on safe navigation and environmentally friendly and sustainable maritime activities. HELCOM heavily focusses on reducing maritime pollution through providing guidance on issues such as ballast water, sewage from ships and emissions.

Routeing and safety of navigation in the Baltic Sea is another key HELCOM area, which will be addressed during the Group of Experts on Safety of Navigation (SAFENAV) group scheduled in Stockholm on 19 September 2019 as well as during the meeting of the Maritime Working Group to be held in Lisbon from 23 to 26 September 2019.

Furthermore, to prepare for accidental spills of oil and chemicals, the BALEX DELTA exercises are conducted every year by HELCOM members. This year, the exercises took place in Bornholm, Denmark.

Aerial surveillance of spills and discharges at sea in the Baltic gets scrutinized at HELCOM meeting in Tallinn

IWGAS-2019 participants in front of the new Estonian surveillance plane in Tallinn on 21 March 2019. The plane is used to track both accidental spills and illegal discharges at sea. © HELCOMImproving surveillance of spills and discharges at sea was a main subject at the Annual Meeting of the HELCOM Informal Working Group on Aerial Surveillance (IWGAS 2019) that was held in Tallinn, Estonia from 20 to 21 March 2019.In Tallinn, the HELCOM members presented their respective national surveillance activities and finalised their work on the 2018 edition of the HELCOM Annual report on discharges observed during aerial surveillance in the Baltic Sea.To ensure a more efficient surveillance of the Baltic Sea, IWGAS 2019 notably agreed to update the coverage requirements of satellite imagery. Aerial surveillance is key for responding to discharges at sea of hazardous substances such as oil or chemicals, regardless of being accidental or intentional.“Aerial surveillance coupled to the Automatic Identification System (AIS) that tracks vessel movements is an efficient way to monitor illegal discharges at sea,” said Markus Helavuori, the HELCOM Professional Secretary in charge of maritime affairs, adding that “regular aerial surveillance can be very dissuasive.” At IWGAS 2019, Estonia also presented its new surveillance plane, a Beechcraft King Air B350ER that is in operation since July 2018.The meeting took place at the premises of the Ministry of the Interior of Estonia and of the Estonian Police and Border Guard Aviation Group.***For more information:Markus HelavuoriHELCOM Professional Secretary in charge of maritime affairsmarkus.helavuori@helcom.fi

Improving surveillance of spills and discharges at sea was a main subject at the Annual Meeting of the HELCOM Informal Working Group on Aerial Surveillance (IWGAS 2019) that was held in Tallinn, Estonia from 20 to 21 March 2019.

MARITIME 18-2018: HELCOM group meets in Hamburg to approve current work and future agenda on maritime matters

The HELCOM MARITIME 18-2018 Meeting participants posing for a group photo at the the German Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) in Hamburg, Berlin.Baltic Sea maritime matters took centre stage at the 18th Meeting of the HELCOM Maritime Working Group (MARITIME 18-2018) that was held in Hamburg, Germany from 25 to 27 September 2018. The Meeting approved key reports and a revised recommendation, and set the agenda for future doings, notably preparing for the update of the , the region’s strategic tool for a healthy Baltic Sea.”MARITIME 18-2018 was an important meeting on the HELCOM calendar, continuing the work on measures to prevent pollution from ships, but also paving the way for Baltic Sea maritime issues for the next years to come. It was an essential step towards the Baltic Sea Action Plan update process that will feature prominently on our future agenda,” said Markus Helavuori, the HELCOM Professional Secretary in charge of maritime affairs.Based on the outcomes of the  and  held earlier this year, the BSAP is set to be renewed after its current end date of 2021. In Hamburg, the  on maritime activities – “Maritime activities carried out in an environmentally friendly way” – was given special attention, not only on its future shape but also with proposals for fulfilling the current and agreed upon actions that are yet to be accomplished by 2021.The Meeting also approved the update to the  on the HELCOM Automatic Identification System (AIS), which specifies the procedures of sharing AIS data and also addresses GDPR regulations.In a bid to strengthen private and public sector collaboration for eco-friendly maritime activities, the participants endorsed the . The reporting mechanism addresses the main barriers, obstacles and challenges hindering the development and investments in . Furthermore, the Meeting approved the Annual HELCOM report on shipping accidents in the Baltic Sea area in 2014-2017. According to the document, more than 700 ship accidents were recorded in the Baltic Sea area between 2014 and 2017, with the majority occurring in ports. Annual reports on shipping accidents in the Baltic Sea area have been compiled by HELCOM since the year 2000.Taking into account the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan, the participants also revised the HELCOM Maritime Work Plan for 2018-2020. The work plan mainly focuses on measures and actions related to maritime safety, emissions and discharges from shipping, and statistics on activities of ships in the Baltic Sea.During the meeting that was held in the premises of the , matters related to air emissions from ships, port reception facilities, marine litter, ballast water, safety of navigation were also discussed among others.The MARITIME 18-2018 Meeting was officially opened by Ms Monika Breuch-Moritz, President of the BSH, who highlighted in her welcome speech that the HELCOM work “is an important contribution to the global vision of green shipping and the sustainable development of marine and coastal areas.” The outcome document of MARITIME 18-2018 is available . –For more information:Markus HelavuoriProfessional Secretarymarkus.helavuari@helcom.fi 

Baltic Sea maritime matters took centre stage at the 18th Meeting of the HELCOM Maritime Working Group (MARITIME 18-2018) that was held in Hamburg, Germany from 25 to 27 September 2018.

Baltic Sea region tests its ability to respond to major maritime incidents

Participating vessels berthing ahead of the BALEX DELTA exercise in Karlskrona, Sweden on 27 August 2018. © BALEX DELTA 2018

The Baltic Sea region’s ability to respond to major maritime incidents will be thoroughly tested once more during the BALEX DELTA 2018 exercise that will be held in Karlskrona, Sweden from 28 to 30 August 2018.

HELCOM publishes report on sewage port reception facilities in the Baltic Sea

The recently published HELCOM report Baltic Sea Sewage Port Reception Facilities – HELCOM overview 2018 provides information on the status of sewage port reception facilities (PRF) and their use in the Baltic Sea area, with a focus on international cruise traffic. A total of 38 ports were assessed in the 2018 version. 

“This publication gives a comprehensive overview of the sewage port reception facilities in the Baltic Sea, and we plan to update it regularly in order to always reflect the current situation,” said Markus Helavuori, the HELCOM Professional Secretary in charge of maritime affairs.

According to the report, most ports channel the wastewater from the ships to the municipal sewer system or treatment plants, either directly through fixed reception points or using tankers or barges. Upgrades are currently underway in some ports.

The overview has been submitted for information to the 73rd session of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 73) that will be held from 22 to 26 October 2018.

The Baltic was the first sea in the world to receive status as a special area for sewage under the IMO MARPOL Convention, Annex IV.

Under the convention that is set to come into effect in June 2021, passenger ships – including cruise ships – will be limited to discharging sewage into port reception facilities or alternatively at sea after treatment in advanced on-board sewage treatment plants. 

The report has been compiled by HELCOM based on information from port authorities, national administrations, and the cruise and port industries. HELCOM AIS data for the period 2006 to 2017 was also used.

Maritime activities in the Baltic Sea assessed in new report

PRESS RELEASE 9 MARCH 2018 – After two years of work, HELCOM today releases a comprehensive assessment of maritime activities in the Baltic Sea. The report covers a wide range human activities at sea, from commercial maritime traffic to leisure boating and from fisheries to hazardous submerged objects.HELCOM releases today the most comprehensive assessment of maritime activities in the Baltic Sea region currently available – covering distribution of activities at sea, developments over time, related environmental issues as well as future perspectives and scenarios. The vast number of activities addressed include operational and accidental pollution from maritime traffic, fisheries, aquaculture, offshore energy production, cables and pipelines, submerged hazardous objects, and leisure boating. Visual contents of the HELCOM Maritime Assessment 2018.Shipping and pollution A large part of the report is dedicated to maritime traffic – still the most common maritime activity in the Baltic Sea – and to mapping it on a regional scale. In terms of environmental effects, the report highlights that some types of ship-based pollution have already been effectively dealt with in the Baltic Sea over the last decades, including 90% reductions in both operational oil spills and sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions from ships exhaust gases.For other types of ship-based pollution, recent decisions will result in more reductions in the near future. Those decisions include banning of untreated sewage discharges by 2021 and a requirement of 80% reduction of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions for new ships built 2021 or later. However, some types of ship-based pollution remain unquantified, including litter, chemical residuals, and anti-fouling paints, and others, such as underwater sound, are yet to be addressed. The concluding chapter of the report explores future scenarios of maritime traffic and related environmental regulations.Stable accident numbers, increase in aquaculture and energy productionShip accidents in the Baltic Sea occurred at a fairly stable level of 300 accidents per year during the period 2011–2015, 4 % of which led to loss of life, serious injuries, or environmental damages. The coastal countries have relatively well-developed systems in place to prevent accidents by increasing safety of navigation. As an example, nearly 200 000 km2 of seabed, more than the combined surface area of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have been resurveyed between 2001 and 2016 by national hydrographic agencies in the Baltic Sea, bringing the accuracy of nautical charts to a new level. The coastal countries also have response resources in place. However, new developments, such as carriage of modern low-sulphur fuels, require updates and new solutions for response procedures.In other chapters, the assessment informs on developments such as the recent and upcoming increases in sea based aquaculture, wind power, and offshore oil and gas production. The chapter on hazardous submerged objects draws attention to the environmental hazards in the legacy of dumped and lost military material, wrecks, and industrial waste.Groundbreaking data useThe report makes unprecedented use of the regional HELCOM Automatic Identification System (AIS) data, including high-resolution information on vessel movements in the entire sea basin since 2005. The extensive data is especially visible in the chapters related to maritime traffic and fisheries. Besides presenting a large number of maps and illustrations, the report includes a detailed description of the methodology used to extract and create the presented information from raw AIS data.The assessment also synthesises a number of other regional datasets on maritime activities in the Baltic Sea area stemming from regular national reporting to HELCOM. These cover issues such as spills observed via aerial surveillance, maritime accidents, response operations, port reception facilities, progress in hydrographic re-surveys, and aquaculture activities.An example of HELCOM collaborationThe 250-page report is the result of a two-year collaborative effort between the editorial team in the HELCOM Secretariat as well as national experts, providing review and additional material, and regional projects.The report is intended to support the update of the “” as well as to benefit the work of the relevant HELCOM Working Groups. It also enables the HELCOM Contracting Parties (Denmark, Estonia, European Union, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russian Federation and Sweden) to demonstrate achievements, and plan future regional work, on the regional objective “Environmentally friendly maritime activities”, agreed as part of the in 2007. In addition to this traditional publication, a large number of GIS datasets generated in the process, particularly AIS based maps on maritime activities, are released simultaneously for the general public via the (MADS). These maps are anticipated to be interesting and useful for various purposes beyond HELCOM cooperation, including national maritime spatial planning and research. The code used in producing these datasets is also made available for the same purpose via the GitHub platform, to help similar initiatives within and beyond the region.The HELCOM Maritime Assessment 2018 can be accessed at:

(12 MB) The GIS materials and code underlying the assessment can be accessed at:AIS Explorer: HELCOM Map and Data service, e.g. and GitHub:
 * * *Note for editors

is an intergovernmental organization
made up of the nine Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Union.
Originally established in 1974, its primary aims as a governing body of the
Helsinki Convention (1974/1992) are to protect the marine environment of the
Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution, as well as to ensure safe maritime
navigation. The official name of HELCOM is the Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission.HELCOM
works to address environmental effects of human activities on land and at sea.
Its working groups consist of national delegates and observers (industry and
civil society representatives). Groups dealing with measures to address
activities at sea include the HELCOM Maritime, Response, Fish and Pressure
Working Groups.The
drafting of an assessment of maritime activities in the Baltic Sea was agreed
by the coastal countries and EU during the 2013 . For more information, please contact:Hermanni Backer Professional Secretary for Maritime, Response and Fish groups HELCOM Tel:  +358 46 8509199 E-mail: hermanni.backer(at)helcom.fi

HELCOM today releases a comprehensive assessment of maritime activities in the Baltic Sea. The report covers a wide range human activities at sea, from commercial maritime traffic to leisure boating and from fisheries to hazardous submerged objects.