Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

 

Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

First draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan is unveiled to HELCOM decision-makers at HOD 59-2020

Entering a final stretch, another major milestone was crossed last week when the first full draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was presented to the organization’s decision-makers during the autumn meeting of the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HOD 59-2020) that took place online.

Building on the existing plan, the updated BSAP is expected to maintain and adapt the current structure and segments that seek to reflect the pressures stemming from land (“Eutrophication” and “Hazardous substances and litter”) and from our activities at sea (“Sea-based activities”) as well as the state of the environment (“Biodiversity and ecosystems”).

In addition, the updated plan is due to feature a segment on horizontal actions having an incidence on the four main segments. These are climate change, monitoring, maritime spatial planning, economic and social analysis, and financing.

Furthermore, all measures and actions contained in the new plan are intended to be implemented by 2030 at the latest. 

The updated BSAP is expected to be adopted by the Ministers of the HELCOM Contracting Parties during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting that will be held in Lübeck, Germany on 20 October 2021.

With its set of targets for protecting biodiversity and reducing the pressures affecting the Baltic, as well as its number of concrete measures, the BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for achieving the HELCOM ecological objectives, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation for attaining good environmental status in the Baltic. 

The original plan, adopted in 2007, can be credited with significantly reducing inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances, improving the protection of biodiversity, and boosting cleaner and safer shipping practices. 

At HOD 59-2020, the decision-makers also approved a draft of the HELCOM Science Agenda that is meant to support the implementation of the BSAP and other HELCOM processes, by identifying the scientific knowledge needs related to the Baltic marine environment and which are foreseen to surface in the next 10 years.

Meant to be launched alongside the new BSAP, the first draft of the Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategywas also presented during the meeting. In a bid to curb eutrophication, the strategy seeks to minimize the run-off of nutrients, stemming mainly from agricultural sources such as fertilizers, to the Baltic Sea by keeping them in a closed loop. 

More good news: the Heads of Delegation announced the removal of HELCOM Hot Spot n°42, the Riga wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), from its list of pollution sites

More than EUR 200 million were invested in the plant over the last 20 years, leading to a significant reduction of the discharges of nutrients and hazardous substances to the Baltic via the Lielupe river. The WWTP is now complying with EU regulations and almost fully meets the more stringent HELCOM targets on water purification. 

The Riga WWTP had been added to the list of significant pollution sites due to insufficient treatment of wastewater and a large share of untreated municipal wastewater being released to the environment. 

The HELCOM Heads of Delegation further approved the draft of a key regional instrument for fighting pollution incidents at sea, the Joint Inter-Regional Marine HNS Response Manual which will replace the current HELCOM Response Manual Volume II. A guideline for addressing and coordinating response to major accidents such as oil or chemical spills, the manual is expected to be adopted during the next meeting of the Helsinki Commission in March 2021.

On shipping, and more specifically on the management of ballast water which is a major source of introduction of alien species to the Baltic Sea, the Heads of Delegation further approved the revised HELCOM-OSPAR Joint Harmonised Procedure on the granting of exemptions under International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (JHP).

The procedure is supported by an online decision tool that gives shipping professionals a quick overview of the risk of introducing non-indigenous species (NIS) through ballast water between two ports. Co-developed with OSPAR and recently updated, the tool covers both the North and Baltic Seas.

The collaboration between HELCOM and OSPAR comes at a time when both organizations are actively seeking to strengthen their partnership, a fact particularly welcomed during HOD 59-2020.

Experts from the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina also presented their recent discussion paper on underwater archaeology “Traces under Water”, highlighting the mutual benefits of protecting both the marine environment and underwater heritage from the common pressures arising from ammunitions, ghost nets and eutrophication.

Chaired by Germany, HOD 59-2020 was attended by participants from all Contracting Parties, by Observers from Baltic Farmers’ Forum on Environment (BFFE), Baltic Sea Advisory Council (BSAC), Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC), Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC) & CPMR Baltic Sea Commission, Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB), Cruise Lines International Association Europe (CLIA Europe), Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), Global Water Partnership Central and Eastern Europe and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and by invited guests.

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

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

aerial_surveillance_2018.jpg

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.

​BALEX DELTA 2018 final report looks into one of the world's largest exercises on response to oil and chemical spills at sea

 With the now publicly available, insight is given into one of the world’s largest response exercises at sea dealing with oil and chemical spills that took place earlier in 2018 in Swedish waters .According to the report, the confirmed the ability of the Baltic Sea countries to carry out a joint maritime response operation of large scope and dealing with maritime incidents of high complexity.The BALEX DELTA 2018 was particularly challenging, testing capabilities such as chemical diving, night-time oil recovery operations directed by a reconnaissance aircraft, and vessel-to-vessel lightering. It was the largest exercise ever held in the Baltic Sea, mobilizing 18 maritime vessels and about 500 personnel from eight countries and the EU.The findings of the report may also be used to develop proposals to update the , as well as providing recommendations for the design of future exercises.The HELCOM Manual is recommended to be used as guidance when two or more – all Baltic Sea countries and the EU – participate in a joint action responding to spillages of oil and other harmful substances such as chemicals.Held every year since 1989, the BALEX DELTA exercises are conducted under the framework of the  that calls for its signatories – all Baltic Sea nations – to have the necessary operational capacity and skills to respond to any maritime incident at sea and affecting the shore.The BALEX DELTA 2018 edition was held off the coast of Karlskrona, Sweden in August 2018. It simulated a  in harsh weather, with chemicals and oil leaking into the sea and reaching the shore.The final evolution report was written by the Swedish Defence Research agency (FOI). It was published ahead of the final conference on lessons learnt of the exercise that was held in Helsinki earlier in April.BALEX DELTA 2018 was supported by funds from the European Union through its .The next BALEX DELTA edition will be hosted by Denmark in 2019, under the lead of the Defence Command of Denmark. It will also mark the 30-year anniversary of the exercises. 

With the Main Exercise Evaluation report on the BALEX DELTA 2018 exercise now publicly available, insight is given into one of the world’s largest response exercises at sea dealing with oil and chemical spills.

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.

​HELCOM case study showcases the potential of the OpenRisk guideline for maritime risk assessments related to oil spills

HELCOM has recently published a for the Baltic Sea showing the potential of the recently developed OpenRisk guideline for assessing maritime risk related to oil spills.The case study is part of the that led to the development of a containing several open-access methods for maritime risk management. “The basic idea of the case study is to demonstrate, in practice, the usefulness of the OpenRisk toolbox and associated guidelines for assessing the risk of accidental oil spill,” said Valtteri Laine, the OpenRisk project manager and co-author of the study.The Baltic Sea case study focuses on maritime incidents in two test areas. The first one includes the Gulf of Finland and the Archipelago Sea, and the second one part of the sea areas south of Sweden and east of mainland Denmark.The study is based on data provided by HELCOM, and by Denmark, Finland and Sweden.The OpenRisk Baltic Sea case study is also available both as and as .The three other OpenRisk partners – the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (), the Finnish Environmental Agency () and the Norwegian Coastal Administration () – also .The OpenRisk project was co-financed by the European Union. ·        ·        ·       

HELCOM has recently published a case study for the Baltic Sea showing the potential of the recently developed OpenRisk guideline for assessing maritime risk related to oil spills.

OpenRisk launches guideline for risk management at sea to improve response to accidental spills

 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.

Final Inter-regional Workshop on Risk Assessment Tools for Pollution Preparedness and Response

(WMU press release)President Doumbia-Henry with the Workshop participants.-1″>The fourth, and final, Inter-regional Workshop on Risk Assessment Tools for Pollution Preparedness and Response under the was hosted by WMU in Malmö, Sweden on 30 October 2018. The workshop included 22 participants from nine countries, and built on the inter-regional discussions initiated by the previous OpenRisk Workshops in Finland, Portugal and Malta during 2017 – 2018.The EU funded Project on Open-Source Tools for Regional Risk Assessments to Improve European Preparedness and Response at Sea (OpenRisk, 2017-2018) is in the process of finalizing its work on drafting an optimized and open method toolbox for frequent regional pollution preparedness and response (PPR) risk assessments. While maritime risk assessments are vital to promoting risk-based decision-making in PPR, authorities have expressed an interest to improve current practices. Recent national and regional risk assessments have been successful but largely one-off projects, which typically do not allow for following how the risks of accidents and pollution develop over time and in space.New approaches enabling frequent risk assessments at a low cost are greatly needed to unleash the full potential of risk assessments within regional intergovernmental PPR organizations.The final OpenRisk Workshop focused on presenting the outcomes of the project and future plans within the scope of PPR risk management. This included a presentation of the document “OpenRisk Guideline for Regional Risk Management to Develop European Pollution Preparedness and Response at Sea” and the results of the Baltic Sea case study. In addition, possible follow-up projects were discussed.The OpenRisk Lead Partner is , an intergovernmental organization made up of the nine Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Union. Founded in 1974 as the governing body of the Helsinki Convention, its aim is to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution, including spills from maritime accidents.Additional project partners are the (WMU), a non-profit maritime research institution based in the Netherlands, and the , which is the competent national oil spill response authority in Finland.The project is also supported by the BONN Agreement (North Sea), the Copenhagen Agreement (Nordic seas), REMPEC (Mediterranean), as well as the Norwegian Coastal Administration.

The fourth, and final, Inter-regional Workshop on Risk Assessment Tools for Pollution Preparedness and Response under the OpenRisk project was hosted by WMU in Malmö, Sweden on 30 October 2018.

HELCOM-led project contributes to improving preparedness and response to pollution at sea during international workshop in Malta

In a bid to reinforce international
preparedness and response to pollution at sea, the Third Interregional Workshop
on Risk Assessment Tools for Pollution Preparedness and Response (PPR) from the
EU-funded and HELCOM-led
project took place in Valletta, Malta from 24 to 25 April 2018. “The workshop was an important step towards
providing pollution preparedness and response (PPR) guidelines at the regional
level,” said Valtteri Laine, the OpenRisk Project Manager at HELCOM and
moderator of the workshop.  “We had hands-on sessions with open-source
risk assessment tools which are designed to facilitate decision-making in PPR,”
said Laine. The main focus of the event was on practical testing of existing
tools and those recently developed during the OpenRisk project, such as ,
ERC-M, , MARINRISK, FRAM and NG-SRW/ADSAM.
The tools help predicting maritime accidents and their consequences.  In addition, the ISO 31000:2009 based
guideline for PPR risk management was also presented during the event, in order
to get feedback for finalization. This was the third workshop in a series of
four spanning from June 2017 to October 2018. The meetings aim at sharing
knowledge between European and global institutions and regional seas PPR
organizations, to further the development of toolboxes and guidelines for PPR
risk assessments. The Valletta-edition was hosted by the
Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea () and moderated by HELCOM. It was
attended by other national administrations, intergovernmental regional organizations
and research institutions. 
is a two year EU project on methods for maritime risk assessments on accidental
spills, carried out by HELCOM, the Malmö-based (WMU), Dutch marine research institute and the Finnish Environmental Institute (). The project is also supported by the
BONN Agreement (North Sea), the Copenhagen Agreement (Nordic seas), REMPEC
(Mediterranean), as well as the Norwegian Coastal Administration. In regards to pollution preparedness and
response, HELCOM countries will also carry out the held in
Karlskrona, Sweden later in August 2018, a large scale maritime response drill
at sea and on shore simulating leading to an oil and chemical spill.The presentations of the workshop in Malta are
available on the public of the OpenRisk 3-2018 Workshop.

In a bid to reinforce international preparedness and response to pollution at sea, the Third Interregional Workshop on Risk Assessment Tools for Pollution Preparedness and Response (PPR) from the HELCOM-lead OpenRisk project took place in Malta.

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.