Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

 

Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

BALEX DELTA 2020: Regional response to major maritime incidents is being tested in Estonian waters

Estonian helicopter landing on Finnish vessel Turva during the BALEX DELTA 2020 exercise.
Photo: Marit Mätik/Ministry of Interior of Estonia

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. 

They help the HELCOM countries “to maintain the ability to respond to pollution incidents threatening the marine environment of the Baltic Sea Area” as formulated in the Annex VII on Response to Pollution Incidents of the Helsinki Convention.

During the exercises, both ships, cleaning equipment and procedures required for response operations at sea and on the shore are tested.

The BALEX DELTA 2020 edition is coordinated by the Estonian Police and Border Guard. The exercise is Estonia’s third, with previous ones held in 1997 and 2007.

The Ministers of the Interior of both Estonia and Finland are also attending the exercise.  

#BALEXDELTA

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).

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.

HELCOM publishes report on noise sensitivity of animals in the Baltic Sea

The recently published HELCOM report “Noise sensitivity of animals in the Baltic Sea” shows how marine mammals, fish and diving birds may react to underwater sound in the Baltic Sea.

“In the past few years, HELCOM has been keen on understanding how underwater noise impacts the different Baltic Sea animal species,” said Marta Ruiz, the HELCOM expert on underwater noise and co-author of the report.

In 2013, the HELCOM members had agreed in Copenhagen that “the level of ambient and distribution of impulsive sounds in the Baltic Sea should not have negative impact on marine life.” The report is a direct response to that announcement.

A first at the Baltic Sea scale, the report identifies species which may be impacted by noise, based on the hearing sensitivity, threat status and commercial value of the animals as well as the impact of noise and the availability of data.

Seals and harbour porpoises are particularly affected by noise due to their high hearing sensitivity. These species rely heavily on hearing throughout their entire life such as for geolocation, communicating or mating, and excessive noise may lead to behavioural changes and physiological stress.

According to the report, “spatial distribution of a species is important when considering the potential risks of impacts from noise.” The report therefore provides a prioritized list of noise sensitive Baltic Sea species and highlights their distribution, to map biologically sensitive areas which also consider periods of biological significance for those species. These areas and the list of species are expected to be updated whenever more data becomes available.

Supported by the HELCOM coordinated and EU co-financed BalticBOOST project, the report is part of the flagship publication series of HELCOM, the Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings (BSEP) that have been running since the ratification of the first Helsinki Convention in 1980.

The HELCOM report “Noise sensitivity of animals in the Baltic Sea” is now publicly available as BSEP n° 167.