Oil spill risk in the Baltic increases

The risk of oil spills in the Baltic is increasing with a rise in oil transportation across the sea, according to the Helsinki-based marine body.

According to the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, the volume of oil transported in the Baltic Sea each year is expected to increase from the 1995 level of 77 million tonnes to 177 million tonnes per year if plans to construct new oil terminals and enlarge existing ones are carried out. In order to manage risk from spills, the Commission is launching a new programme compiling a reliable maritime transportation inventory in the whole Baltic Sea area and defining probable areas of risk.

The probability of oil spills appears to be more closely related to the type of transportation and to the route, than to the density of the traffic, says the Commission. Single hull tankers tend to cause more oil pollution, with 75% of accidents from such ships resulting in pollution, compared to only 15% of accidents involving double hull tankers causing a spill. The areas considered to be particularly vulnerable are those around port areas and in narrow straits.

The frequency of oil spills in the Baltic sea is still low compared to global statistics, says the Commission, but it points out that the new programme is designed to safeguard the sustainable development of the maritime traffic.

Depending on the results of the Helsinki Commission’s new inventory, risk zones may require specially tailored precautionary measures, including reassessing the oil spill contingency planning in the nine Baltic Sea states, says project leader Kalervo Jolma from the Finnish Environment Institute. The Commission intends to prioritise response actions in real time accidents in order to protect sensitive sea areas such as breeding and spawning grounds.

Computerised modelling techniques are being used to illustrate various oil spill scenarios in a variety of weather conditions throughout the main oil transportation route in the Baltic sea area, though the traffic situation will also be modelled using the same technique at a later stage. The technique is vital for estimating the time available to combat oil spillages and to forecast how long it will take the oil to reach the shore.

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