Baltic Sea response community prepares for major oil spill exercise in Sweden 2018
The next major Baltic operational exercise in oil spill response, HELCOM BALEX DELTA, is scheduled to take place during the week of 27–31 August 2018 in Karlskrona area, Sweden. Preparations for the 2018 exercise will take major steps forward today and tomorrow (8–9 November) with an initial planning conference in Stockholm, Sweden, HELCOM said in its press release.
During the conference, the participating response authorities from the Baltic Sea coastal countries and the EU will have an opportunity to provide input to the planning of the three-day exercise. The conference is organized by the Swedish Coast Guard, the coordinator of BALEX DELTA 2018, and co-financed by the EU.
HELCOM BALEX DELTA exercises, organised as a practical test of the alarm procedures and the response capability of the Baltic Sea countries, have taken place each year since 1989. They are hosted by the Baltic Sea coastal countries according to a rotation schedule agreed upon at the HELCOM RESPONSE Working Group.
In addition to the host, other countries regularly participate with their own response ships. Typically, 6–8 countries take part in the exercise, bringing the total number of vessels to 10–20. This makes the Baltic exercise one of the major multilateral spill exercises worldwide.
For the 2018 exercise, the hosting country Sweden has a project budget of nearly 1 million euro, which includes significant project financing from the European Union Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) for the period from May 2017 to April 2019. This funding allows a more advanced exercise, including detailed and inclusive planning as well as more thorough analysis of the lessons learned. The outcome of this analysis will contribute to the overall development of the HELCOM exercise framework for at-sea, on-shore and combined operations. The project has recently been selected a flagship project of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.
The preliminary scenario for the 2018 BALEX DELTA, to be further discussed at the initial planning conference, involves a cargo ship which hits ground off the environmentally sensitive rocky coast of southern parts of Sweden (Skåne and Blekinge). The ship carries containers with hazardous chemicals, some of which start leaking and are lost into the sea, while a breach in the hull leads to an oil spill. Some of the material reaches the shoreline, which calls for response activities on the shore, in addition to those at sea.
Thus, besides ensuring effective international oil spill response at sea and on the shore, the exercise will also answer another need: to further develop the response procedures that relate to international incidents involving hazardous and noxious substances, both in the Baltic Sea and worldwide. Moreover, the exercise will focus on ensuring effective communication between the diverse actors involved, especially between those working on shore and those at sea.
As the exercise receives funding from the DG ECHO programme, an extensive observer programme will be organised in order to ensure that the Baltic best practices can be spread throughout the EU. Within the observer programme, observers from 40 countries will be invited to witness the exercise, in addition to the Baltic Sea community that regularly takes part.
International assistance from some or all coastal countries may be needed in the case of a major spill in the Baltic Sea. Based on the 1974/1992 Helsinki Convention, work for such co-ordinated on pollution preparedness and response take place within the regular regional cooperation of HELCOM. A dedicated intergovernmental group was established in 1977 for this purpose, today called the HELCOM Response Working Group.
The agreed preparedness and response procedures are documented in the HELCOM RESPONSE Manual, which was first compiled in 1983 from a number of related HELCOM Recommendations and has been kept continuously updated ever since.
In order to test this Response Manual in practice, and thus ensure effective co-operation in case of an international pollution incident in the Baltic Sea, the coastal countries regularly carry out exercises. These range from table top and communication exercises to operational exercises like the HELCOM BALEX DELTA, which has been organised every year since 1989. In operational exercises equipment, ships and staff are exercised in the field using an incident scenario, partly unknown to the participants.
The BALEX DELTA 2018 EU project is a time-limited EU project supporting the organisation of the 2018 edition of the HELCOM BALEX DELTA exercise. The project will run from 1 May 2017 to 30 April 2019 with a total budget of EUR 950 000 from European Union DG ECHO, Directorate A -Emergency Management. The project consortium, led by the Swedish Coast Guard, includes as project partners the County Administrative Board of Skåne, HELCOM, MSB (Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency), Polish Maritime Search and Rescue Service, and SYKE (Finnish Environment Institute).