The light and white corn product has been used again in a severe context, when the Baltic Sea nations prepared for the worst to happen in the international oil spill response exercise BALEX DELTA, held in August 2022. Popcorn simulates oil, which floats on the water’s surface and may quickly disperse into vast areas, especially with high winds.
The annual drill was hosted this year by Germany, the exercise was a success, and the video about it is worth a watch.
* * * Held every year since 1989, the HELCOM BALEX DELTA is an annual operational exercise designed to test the readiness for responding to pollution incidents such as oil spills or chemical leakages from shipping accidents in the Baltic Sea. It checks our alarm procedures, the know-how and operational capability for responding to spills, and the cooperation between the Baltic Sea countries.
Applications are invited for the post of Communication Secretary at the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) Secretariat to take care of the external communication and public relations activities of HELCOM. The post, which is based in Helsinki, Finland at the Commission’s Secretariat, will be become vacant on 1 February 2023.
Candidates with the required expertise and qualifications are invited to submit their application no later than 14 November 2022.
The recently updated online tool HELCOM Explorer allows to easily see how HELCOM cooperation bears fruit, and how the countries’ actions are being fulfilled when reaching the majority of their ambitious HELCOM targets and the ultimate goal: Baltic Sea in good ecological state.
The actions listed in the Explorer include the entire updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (2021), HELCOM Ministerial Meeting commitments from 2010 onwards as well as selected HELCOM Recommendations. The updated BSAP contains 199 concrete actions and measures addressing biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances, and sea-based activities such as shipping and fisheries. In addition, it includes new actions on emerging or previously less highlighted pressures such as climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and seabed disturbance.
“As the HELCOM Explorer provides a comprehensive overview and a great amount of information on both joint and national actions, with easy filtering tools, it is quite a unique system in regional marine governance. Moreover, it is a very concrete indicator of transparency for our stakeholders and to the broader audiences”, says Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary of HELCOM.
Joint actions are carried out together by all HELCOM Contracting Parties, for example creating a new Recommendation, joint management guidelines, or assessments of environmental status. National actions are implemented at the country level, and they include e.g. incorporating the provisions of a HELCOM Recommendation into relevant national legislation or guidelines.
The Explorer allows for easy overview browsing, but also for more detailed filtering, according to the details of the actions in the Baltic Sea Action Plan such as segment, theme, or target year. The tool further provides information on why the action is needed (rationale), what pressures or activities are addressed by the action in question, and, for some, what is the potential effect of the measure to reduce pressures or improve the state of the Baltic Sea. All data is available for download.
The HELCOM Explorer tool to track the progress on the implementation of HELCOM commitments was first launched in 2016, and the interface was updated in 2020.
The reporting on the implementation of the joint actions is done by relevant HELCOM Working Groups and the reporting on the national actions by the countries. The first reporting on the implementation of actions in the 2021 BSAP is planned to take place in 2025, followed by the second reporting round in 2029.
Associate Professional Secretary
About the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP)
The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is HELCOM’s strategic programme of measures and actions for achieving good environmental status of the sea, ultimately leading to a Baltic Sea in a healthy state.
Initially adopted by the HELCOM Contracting Parties in 2007, the 2021 BSAP is based on the original plan and maintains the same level of ambition. It also retains all actions previously agreed on that are still to be implemented, while, in addition, includes new actions to strengthen the existing efforts and tackle emerging concerns.
Guided by the HELCOM vision of “a healthy Baltic Sea environment with diverse biological components functioning in balance, resulting in a good ecological status and supporting a wide range of sustainable economic and social activities”, the updated BSAP is divided into four segments with specific goals: biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances and sea-based activities.
About HELCOM Recommendations
One of the most important duties of the Helsinki Commission is to make Recommendations on measures to address certain pollution sources or areas of concern. Since the beginning of the 1980s HELCOM has adopted some 260 HELCOM Recommendations for the protection of the Baltic Sea. The implementation of various HELCOM recommendations by the HELCOM Contracting Parties plays an important role in achieving the objectives of the Baltic Sea Action Plan. The HELCOM Explorer covers the reporting on the implementation status of selected HELCOM Recommendations.
The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – also known as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) – is an intergovernmental organization (IGO) and a regional sea convention in the Baltic Sea area, consisting of ten members: the nine Baltic Sea countries Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden, plus the European Union. A platform for environmental policy making at the regional level, HELCOM works for a healthy Baltic Sea. Its mandate stems from a regional treaty, the Helsinki Convention, whose implementation it oversees. The HELCOM Secretariat is located in Helsinki, Finland.
“The decreasing number of harmful spills in the Baltic is likely a result of intensive aerial surveillance, even if the density of shipping has grown. It acts as a deterrent, as the vessels are aware that they are constantly being watched”, comments Markus Helavuori, Professional Secretary of HELCOM.
Over the years, the aerial surveillance activity in the countries has substantially improved. For example, the remote sensing equipment on board aircrafts and satellite surveillance is in good use to enable bigger area coverage and optimization of flights effectiveness. While in 2021, staff absence caused by covid-19 and technical reasons caused a dip in the annual flight hours, overall, the high number of annual flight hours has been maintained.
Aerial surveys of oil spills have been carried out by Contracting Parties of HELCOM with standardized methods for several years, covering nearly the entire Baltic Sea. That is why it has been a substantial part of the HELCOM indicator on oil spills affecting the marine environment and, the confidence of the indicator evaluation has been considered high. The update of all HELCOM indicators will soon be finished as they form an elementary part of the next Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3), to be released in 2023.
Collecting data on the frequency, size and nature of such spills is essential to understanding the environmental impacts of different kinds of substances on the Baltic Sea. Out of the 52 mineral oil spills identified in the Baltic Sea by air in 2021, the overwhelming majority (98%) were smaller than one cubic metre (1 m3) – small sizes of detected spills being another long-standing trend.
Interactive dashboard on observed discharges in the Baltic Sea (1998-2021)
An interactive data visualization dashboard has been developed by the HELCOM Secretariat to offer users a more open and analytical view into the aerial surveillance dataset (dashboard accessible here). This dashboard presents data on detected spills of mineral oil in the Baltic Sea from 1998 until 2021. Reporting on spills of other substances and unknown substances is also included from 2014 onwards. The dashboard has been developed using ‘Power BI’ a data visualization software by Microsoft.
The dashboard is interactive meaning that users can filter data based on fields of interest. Users can drill-down into the dataset by simply selecting a data field via the visual, dropdown, or map.
About aerial surveillance for spills in the Baltic Sea
Currently coordinated by the HELCOM Informal Working Group on Aerial Surveillance (IWGAS), the 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, among them garbage, litter and floating objects. Spills of unidentified chemical substances and novel fuel types warrant particular attention with regard to improving detection and response capabilities, especially in light of higher risks for accidents as a result of increased marine traffic and extreme weather conditions due to climate change.
Through the Helsinki Convention (Article 14, Annex VII, Regulation 7), the HELCOM Contracting Parties – 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.
Associate Professional Secretary
(Maritime, Response, Fish)
International partners practice at sea and on the shore
The Bay of Mecklenburg and the beach of Warnemünde are the scene of the largest oil spill-response exercise in the Baltic Sea, BALEX, from 22nd until the 25th of August 2022. During this international exercise, multi-discipline specialists and crew members from countries in the Baltic Sea region train their skills on combating widespread oil spills. As the Baltic Sea is one of the most vulnerable sea areas in the world, it is crucial to prepare for the worst.
The organizing of BALEX exercises rotates annually between all bordering states of the Baltic Sea. This year Germany is the host country. Central Command for Maritime Emergencies in Cuxhaven, responsible party for national maritime emergencies, leads the exercise.
About 400 specialists from different countries and 17 vessels are involved in the exercise, supported by helicopters and the German surveillance airplane “DO-228“.
The regional cooperation has long roots. This year, international units consist of diverse organizations from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden as well as the European Safety Agency (EMSA).
At the German side, the Navy, Federal Police, the Water and Shipping Directorate, five fire departments as well as the Central Command for Maritime Emergencies join forces.
The exercise plan is multi-sectional and spreads over four days. Main components are a Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) scenario in vicinity of the Kadet trench, between Germany and Denmark (23 August) and an oil spill event that demands counter pollution in Mecklenburg bay.
The exercise is crucial in improving the communication and the series of operations between the involved units of all participating organizations and international attendees. The BALEX DELTA drill is sometimes topped with onshore response, like this year, and it has elements of other exercises such BALEX ALPHA (table-top), BALEX BRAVO (alarm), BALEX CHARLIE (functional), etc.
What is BALEX DELTA
Held every year since 1989, the HELCOM BALEX DELTA is an annual operational exercise designed to test the readiness for responding to pollution incidents such as oil spills or chemical leakages from shipping accidents in the Baltic Sea. It checks our alarm procedures, the know-how and operational capability for responding to spills, and the cooperation between the Baltic Sea countries.
The success of the Baltic Sea region in nominating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the emerging plans regarding Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs) will be in key focus in a side event on 30 June 2022, taking place during the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.
The aim is to present marine protection as a concrete example of the instrumental role of the regional sea conventions in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life under water – in particular and other global commitments in general, at the macro-regional and sea-basin levels.
The side event will present HELCOM’s Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) 2021–2030 as a best practice example for an ecosystem-based approach to marine management from science to action. The BSAP provides concrete tools for reaching the regional commitments, such as the establishment of a coherent MPA network, and the “30/10 target” referring to the expansion aim of the MPA coverage to 30 % of the Baltic Sea, with one third being strictly protected. The latter has a straight link to processes under Convention on Biological Diversity as well as the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
In addition to MPAs, the event focuses on the areas that are achieving the effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas, so called Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs), as referred to in Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).
Main organizers of the event are the Ministries of the Environment of Estonia and Germany (HELCOM Chair).
UN Ocean Conference, postponed due to the covid pandemic, will be held in Lisbon, Portugal. from 27 June until 1 July, 2022.
The guidance includes specific annexes for the Mediterranean, Baltic and Greater North Sea. The decision to develop the manual was taken during the Thirteenth Inter-Secretariat Meeting between Regional Agreement Secretariats, DG ECHO and EMSA that was held in Lisbon, Portugal in 2017.
The manual was also presented during the closure event of the West MOPOCO project that was held online on 14 April 2021. West MoPoCo supports Algeria, France, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia, in collaboration with Monaco, in their cooperation on oil spills and HNS marine pollution. The project was supported by HELCOM.
The 2020 edition of the annual BALEX DELTA exercise is taking place today, 26 August 2020 off the coast of Tallinn, Estonia, testing the readiness of the Baltic Sea countries to respond to major maritime incidents such as oil and chemical spills.
This year, the exercise scenario will involve a collision between two oil tankers in Estonian waters, simulating a large-scale pollution event with a spill of 200 tonnes of oil and missing crew members at sea, triggering a search and rescue (SAR) action.
Besides host Estonia providing several ships and equipment including a surveillance plane and a helicopter, Denmark, the EU, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden are also participating and sending vessels.
“Major accidents are not frequent in the Baltic Sea but BALEX DELTA is one of the tools at our disposal to keep us ready for the worst case,” said Markus Helavuori who oversees response activities at HELCOM.
The BALEX DELTA exercises have been held every year since 1989 to check and improve the operational capacity and skills of the Baltic Sea countries to respond to maritime incidents affecting the waters of HELCOM countries.
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.
The HELCOM-led OpenRisk project recently published its “”, providing guidelines and methods for maritime risk management.Primarily aimed at national and regional authorities handling response to maritime incidents, the report intends to increase the risk management component in pollution preparedness processes, based on the .The report contains a toolbox of several risk assessment methods, outlining their aims and use, implementation basis, required inputs and obtained outputs, and how they work in practice. All of the described tools are open-access.”We don’t want another Erika or Prestige. For an effective response to maritime incidents, we also need to include risk management,” said Valtteri Laine, the OpenRisk project leader, adding that a better understanding of risk helps to mitigate uncertainties and lead to better preparedness. “The OpenRisk guideline toolbox should make it easier to select the most adequate method and tool for assessing specific risks,” he said.The – a two year EU-funded project on methods for maritime risk assessments – aims at strengthening regional preparedness to accidental spills. Through promoting open-source standards, it seeks to address the high costs of implementing regional risk assessments, and to improve comparability of risk assessments across countries and regions. OpenRisk is led by HELCOM, partnering with the (WMU), the Netherlands-based non-profit maritime research institution , and the (SYKE).The project is also supported by the (North Sea), the (Nordic seas), (Mediterranean), as well as the .
The HELCOM-led OpenRisk project recently published its “OpenRisk Guideline for Regional Risk Management to Improve European Pollution Preparedness and Response at Sea”, providing guidelines and methods for maritime risk management.
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