Popcorn spill saves the day

Popcorn played centre stage in a simulation of an oil-spill clean-up operation in Latvia. Sackfuls of popcorn were emptied into the Baltic sea off the shores of Liepaja as part on an international emergency exercise. After a busy day mopping up the tasty snack in the mock clean-up attempt, rescue units returned to shore with a delighted Captain Hermanis Cernovs declaring the exercise “a great success.”


Seventeen ships participated in the international oil spill response exercise BALEX 2002, which takes place every year in the Baltic Sea. Past simulations of chemical spills have been undertaken in all kinds of weather, sometimes under icy sea conditions. This year, ten cubic meters of crunchy popcorn was used to simulate an oil spill of 800 tonnes, and was spread over two large areas.

The exercise began with a distress call from a shipwrecked oil tanker to a nearby rescue centre. Within an hour of the call the centre had run an oil drift computer model, compiled a rescue report and summoned international assistance. Once the international rescue ships arrived the operation was co-ordinated by supreme-on-scene commander Captain Cernovs, who rounded up the offending food for transport back to the shore. The corn-strewn area was also surveyed by air.

Delegates from the NATO Partnership for Peace looked on as the floating popcorn was tackled with new oil spill contingency equipment. Six hours after the spill, more than one third of the corn-contaminated water had been recovered. Oil drift modelling showed that no oil would have been washed ashore.

“These exercises are invaluable for our work in a real accident where every minute counts and we have no time for prior discussions on common procedures for how to report and communicate, acquire assistance and work together at the scene of the incident,” said Thomas Fagö, Chairman of the HELCOM SEA Group that organised the exercise.

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