Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

Response on the shore brings good neighbours even closer

​​​​​​Latvia and Lithuania demonstrate joint onshore capacity at Balex Delta 2016. During Balex Delta regional exercise in Klaipeda this week​, Latvian and Lithuanian teams worked side by side on the shore. This international dimension of the onshore exercise is a new aspect in HELCOM context and demonstrate how the regional response cooperation in the Baltic Sea evolves.​Laura Mazmaca from the Latvian State Environmental Service is happy about the cross-country cooperation. “Latvia and Lithuania have always been close neighbours but lately especially our onshore response cooperation has developed. After a joint firefighting operation in the Neringa area in 2012, our firefighting services purchased joint onshore response equipment as a part of an EU project in 2013. In Balex Delta 2016 we can show the benefits of such close cooperation also to the rest of the Baltic Sea region.” Photo: Konrad Wrzecionkowski/WWF Poland​​​​A ten-person team from the Liepaja department of the Latvian state fire and rescue service participated in this year’s exercise in Klaipeda, 100km to the south from their home across the border in Lithuania. The Latvians exercised alongside four teams from Lithuanian coastal fire and rescue services, seaport authority, municipalities and private companies. In total around a hundred staff participated in the on shore exercise. The Baltic Sea coastal countries have worked hard during last years to enhance regional work on response on the shore. The 1992 Helsinki Convention, the legal basis of HELCOM work, was changed in 2013 to more explicitly cover spill response during situations when pollution has reached the shore. In addition to this formal legal step a targeted expert group, HELCOM Shore, has polished common regional best practices for such international on shore response. But how this international onshore dimension should be exercised in the region is still somewhat open.  Sonja Dobo, Chair of the HELCOM regional shore group and coordinator for oil spill preparedness and response at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency explains: “Multilateral onshore exercises in the Baltic Sea region is still a rather new and unexplored field and on a very different level of maturity compared to offshore exercises. Roughly a handful of bi- or multilateral onshore exercises have been conducted since 2011 when we got our first experience from Sweden. At that time, four nations in the central Baltic – Sweden, Estonia, Finland and Russia – participated in both a table top and a field exercise on the shore as part of the EU project ENSACO. More than a hundred organisations from eleven counties took part in total.”​Photo: HELCOMHELCOM has an ongoing process to develop Balex Delta operational exercises to make best use of the equipment and staff gathered. Many lessons have been learnt so far as the countries have practiced together at sea for decades while the onshore exercises on a larger scale are only a couple of years old.    Ms Dobo continues: “One thing we learned since the big exercise in 2011 is to keep it simple and focused. Onshore response is a complex field. There are big differences between countries’ legislation and organisational structures as well as our different cultures and languages.””Setting clear aims and goals for the exercise is necessary as well as giving high priority to the evaluation. Every exercise has given a lot of new important knowledge and we need to share these experiences with each other,” she says.However, while field exercises require a lot of resources, planning and conducting a simple table top exercise may also provide much new knowledge for the regional community and could also be explored as a regular element. BackgroundOn the shore response is commonly under the responsibility of municipalities or rescue services and for this reason commonly require additional coordination with the offshore response units. In addition, as the Baltic Sea is a relatively small sea area, a large scale spill may contaminate several kilometres of shoreline and affect both the vegetation and the animals – and require international assistance. In order to be prepared for such severe situations it is essential that effective mechanisms for international assistance between the Helsinki Convention Contracting Parties for pollution incidents on the shore are well established and ready to operate efficiently. HELCOM Response Manual Volume III covers international cooperation on combating spillages of oil and other harmful substances on the shore and the HELCOM Expert Working Group on Response on the Shore (EWG SHORE) works to improve the cooperation.​* * *The

works to ensure swift national and international responses to maritime
pollution incidents, including in case of accident the availability of
appropriate equipment and the joint practice of response procedures in
cooperation with neighbouring states. The group also coordinates the aerial
surveillance of maritime shipping routes to detect oil spills and other potentially harmful substances released into
the Baltic Sea and help identify suspected polluters. The meetings
of the HELCOM Response Group have been held regularly among all Baltic Sea
countries and EU for over thirty years. * * * For more information, please contact:Hermanni BackerProfessional Secretary for Maritime, Response and Fish groupsHELCOMTel:  +358 46 8509199Skype: helcom02E-mail: hermanni.backer(at)​

Latvia and Lithuania demonstrate joint onshore capacity at Balex Delta 2016. This international dimension of the onshore exercise is a new aspect in HELCOM context.