Finland ill-prepared for spill

One third of Finland's oil-spill fighting fleet is out of action because there are no crew for the ships, an official has said.

Kalervo Jolma, head engineer of the Finnish Environment Institute, told the press this week that of the 15 ships Finland has allocated to the task, five are not ready for deployment because they are without crews.

This would severely inhibit the country’s ability to cope with spills, he said, particularly in the Gulf of Bothnia or the inland waterway of Saimaa as the manned ships would not be able to reach these areas as quickly as they would be needed.

Under the joint Finnish-Russian contingency plan for combating pollution of the Baltic Sea, both states have a responsibility to reach any spill of oil or other hazardous substance in their waters within six hours.

According to Mr Jolma, Finland would not be able to hold up its end of the bargain as things stand.

“If an accident were to occur in the Gulf of Bothnia, there would not be any vessel available when it is easiest to remove the oil,” he told the press.

“A ship would arrive a day too late.”

The engineer estimated that the cut backs on crewing levels might be saving the Finnish government 2 million Euros a year, but the potential cost of been unable to mobilise a timely response to a serious spill would dwarf that saving.

When tackling oil spills, speed is of the essence, as the faster the spill is contained the less time it has to spread. A quick response therefore saves money and reduces the environmental impact.

Finstafleet concedes that while not all ships are permanently crewed, they would still be available in an emergency.

“Oil spill response preparedness is ensured with nine of Finstaship’s vessels,” the organisation’s president, Esko Mustamäki, told edie.

“Two oil combating vessels are always ready for instant action in case of emergency. The rest of the seven vessels will assist as needed. We have an experienced crew designated to be called in for emergency work.

“The two vessels which are ready for oil spill response activities are also fitted with special equipment suitable for activities in ice.

“This special feature is extremely rare also on global scale.”

he went on to say that traffic from Russian ports had dramatically increased in recent years and continued to do so, and increased number of journeys by oil-carrying vessels means an increased risk of a spill.

“Therefore, the importance of deterrent measures should be even more emphasized in all activities, by both shipping companies and countries in the area,” he said.

Seasonal restrictions on vessels trying to cross the seas would reduce the environmental risk, as would standards ensuring ships were equipped to cope with the icy conditions.

“Due to narrow routes, shallows and ice, the Gulf of Finland is extremely challenging to navigate in the winter season,” said Mr Mustamäki.

Therefore, in terms of preventing environmental catastrophes, an experienced winter navigator should be onboard every vessel moving in congested and narrow routes in the wintry Gulf of Finland.”

Sam Bond

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