Only two months after the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), the inter-governmental environmental organisation protecting the Baltic Sea, warned that the risk of oil spills was increasing with the rise in oil transportation across the sea (see related story), the environmental impact resulting from a 2,700 tonne oil spill which occurred on 28 March was still being felt when edie was published. Danish conservationists have warned that up to 5,000 wild birds could die after being caught up in oil slicks and some areas are proving impossible to clear-up.

Oil from tanker, Baltic Carrier, which collided with a small sugar-carrying vessel, has been washed up on several islands in southern Denmark, including Faroe, Falster, Moen and Bogö. According to HELCOM, 2,000 of around 10,000 sea birds present in the area have been killed, including Eider and other marine ducks, swans and geese. Some of those killed are strictly protected according to the EU Bird Directive like the Red-throated and the Black-throated Diver.

Fourteen ships and around 500 people have been involved in the clear-up, of which 80% has been successfully recovered by Danish, German and Swedish authorities. Due to some warm temperatures a large amount of highly toxic and partly volatile PAHs (poly-aromatic hydrocarbons) present in the oil have evaporated. However, great concern still centred on 300 tonnes of heavy fuel oil smearing the small island of Bogö, an internationally recognised bird area. So far authorities have not been able to reach the oil, by land or sea as the water depth is too shallow for the oil combating vessels and no roads exist. Authorities are even considering building roads to the remote coastal stretch to transport cleaning equipment.

In the coming days thousands of birds are expected to arrive on Bogö on their way to breeding and nesting grounds and offshore, thousands of Arctic and North European sea birds are also threatened.

If the oil cannot be retrieved offshore or collected from the coastline the consequences will be grave, HELCOM says. Toxic substances could enter the food chain via mussels and fish. Locally, fish might also be threatened by the oil, especially those species breeding in shallow coastal areas such as perch and pike.

While the cause of the collision was still under investigation, it seemed the accident was not provoked by a failure to follow safety regulations, HELCOM said. Based on an updated risk assessment the Sea-based Pollution Group within the organisation will be discussing the need for further safety measures. Both ships, which were travelling in a deep-water route, as small vessels, were unnecessarily doing so, HELCOM said adding that deep-water routes have been designated for deep draught ships. Both vessels were also without a pilot, yet the International Maritime Organization recommends pilotage in areas with risks of groundings, which these ships were.

HELCOM is now working with the International Maritime Organisation for the adoption of protective measures in the Baltic Sea region and ensuring their implementation.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie