Biggest Baltic Sea OSR Exercise in Helsinki

This year, Balex Delta was hosted by Finland and was exceptionally large with approx. 20 specially equipped OSR vessels from all the nine Baltic coastal countries, along with over 50 other ships and boats and aircraft support. Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) was responsible for coordination and a national coastal response exercise coincided with the operation on August 28.
The drill simulated a large real life oil catastrophe in one of the most vulnerable and busiest sea areas in the world. The goal was to recover as much oil as possible in the open sea before it reached the island shores or mainland, since this is roughly ten times more cost-efficient than shoreline clean-up. Specifically the exercise simulated a major oil tanker accident in the Gulf of Finland. The exercise was based on a scenario where a ro-pax (cargo and passenger) vessel collides with an oil tanker and 15,000 tons of crude oil spills into the sea. For the purpose of the exercise, peat was used to simulate the oil. Balex Delta oil spill response exercise, which is held annually under the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area governed by HELCOM, took place just outside Helsinki. The exercise was larger than ever before, involving several international organizations and responders and overall more than 500 people. The Helsinki City Rescue Department, the Finnish Border Guard, the Finnish Defense Forces and Meritaito Ltd provided a significant input with their OSR vessels, aircraft and personnel. Equipment and staff from the Helsinki (western and southern coastal region) and Kymenlaakso rescue authorities also took part in the exercises.

With purpose and mission

Ultimately the drill was designed to test the cooperation among national and international oil spill response organizations and vessels. All aspects of the oil spill response operations were tested during the exercise, from alarm procedures to the disposal of recovered waste. Crews at sea and ashore practiced the deployment of oil containment booms, oil recovery, shoreline protection, oil spill mapping, preparedness for shoreline clean-up, logistics and oiled wildlife response. A significant new element in the exercise is the regional Boris 2 situation awareness system, which is used for distributing information among the different organizations, and for oil spill response operational command. The number of vessels transporting oil on the Baltic Sea and particularly in the Gulf of Finland has increased remarkably in recent years, which means a growing risk of a major accident involving oil pollution. The Baltic Sea states have signed a contract under HELCOM to combat oil spills in their respective regions, and to assist each other with oil response. Assistance from neighboring countries is essential in the event of a major oil disaster, which is why the countries arrange a joint exercise annually.

Unified input

A significant part of the funding for this year’s exercise came from the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department of the European Commission (DG ECHO). As such, the scope of Balex Delta 2012 was widened and included the following operations: alerting, open sea pollution response with specialized vessels, open sea pollution response using non specialized vessels in laying and towing the oil booms (oil trawling), FIFI, emergency towing, laying protective booms in the archipelago, shallow water oil response with specialized response boats, oiled coastline mapping, beach cleaning, oiled wildlife cleaning, information sharing with a situational awareness system, aerial surveillance and possibly equipment transfer with aerial assets. “As an observer and participant in the exercise, I was very pleased to see our equipment on board the OSR vessels being used during the Balex Delta drill. Our equipment worked efficiently throughout the exercises and responders operated the equipment with ease and control,” says Lamor’s COO Rune Högström proudly.”