HELCOM‘s international aerial surveillance operation over the Northern Baltic Sea ended on September 10, 2014, despite thick fog at night time, 27 hours after the start. This year’s Coordinated Extended Pollution Control Operation (CEPCO North) was organized by the Estonian Police and Border Guard and no oil spills or other discharges from ships were detected.
“The operation involved four specially equipped aircraft from four countries – Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. More support was provided by three participating vessels as well as through satellite surveillance from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). The weather conditions had a major effect to the operation due to unpredictable fog, but nevertheless the overall cooperation went smoothly“, says Priit Pajusaar, CEPCO North 2014 coordinator and Police Captain from Estonian Police and Border Guard Board.
Such high-intensity operations supplement the regular aerial control operations in the region which aim at creating a realistic picture of the level of compliance to the anti-pollution regulations in the Baltic area. The purpose is also to gather evidence of infringements and, if possible, to catch polluters red handed.
“Pollution surveillance has a substantial preventive effect on the illegal oil discharges. All HELCOM states should ensure sufficient support and funds for surveillance, in order to respect the HELCOM precautionary principle as well as the commitments of the Helsinki Convention through regular pollution control. Moreover, the persistent efforts of the HELCOM Response Group deserve credit for the decreasing trend not only in the number of oil discharges in the Baltic, but also in their volume,” says Harry Liiv, Chair of HELCOM.
Since the timing of the HELCOM CEPCOs is randomly selected, the operation is intense and strictly confidential until the entire operation is over, it reflects the realistic situation of discharges in the Baltic Sea.
CEPCO operations have several objectives, such as to survey continuously high density traffic areas with a high risk of illegal discharges; identify and catch the polluters; practise communication between aircraft, patrol vessels and the Command Centres involved; improve cooperation between countries; and exchange experiences between crews.
In general, the number of detected oil spills in the Baltic Sea has been constantly decreasing, even though the density of shipping has rapidly grown and the aerial surveillance activity in the countries has been substantially improved, e.g. the high number of flight hours has been maintained and remote sensing equipment on board aircrafts, like Side Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR), has been more widely used. This is a result of intensive aerial surveillance in the Baltic Sea which indicates to the ships that they are constantly being watched. The aerial surveillance is complemented by satellite surveillance to enable bigger area coverage and optimisation of flights effectiveness.
Total number of flight hours and confirmed oil spills in the Baltic Sea during aerial surveillance 1988-2013.
(Click on the image for a larger view)
Altogether 130 oil spills were observed in 2013. The number of spills in 2013 was nine less than in 2012. It should be noted that of the 130 spills, 18 were detected from the same wreck (m/s Gerorg Buchner) on different occasion during the year and three other spills from different wrecks were also detected.
A good way to evaluate the number of illegal oil discharges is to reflect it as Pollution per Flight Hour (PF) Index, which compares the total number of observed oil spills to the total number of flight hours. Decreasing PF Index over the years indicates less oil spills or/and increased surveillance activity. In 2013 a small increase in the PF Index could be seen (0.030) compared to the PF Index in 2012 (0.027) and the lowest recorded PF Index in 2011 (0.022).
Of the total 130 oil discharges detected in 2013, 121 (93 %) were smaller than 1 m3 , and of these oil spills as many as 104 were even smaller than 0.1 m3 (100 liters). None of the spills were estimated to be larger than 2.4 m 3 and the total estimated minimum volume of oil spills observed in 2013 amounted to 11 m 3 , which is the lowest recorded so far. The estimated volume of the oil spill has steadily been decreasing and during the last years a significant decrease has been recorded, for instance the decrease has been as much as 77 % compared to 2010 (49 m 3 ), however keeping in mind that these are only estimations.
In a vast majority of cases of detected illegal discharges polluters remain unknown. In 2013, out of the total number of confirmed mineral oil spills (130), in as few as 15 cases (12 %) the polluting ship was identified. Altogether 16% of the spills were from wrecks. The identification of ships suspected of illegally discharging oil into the sea is facilitated by the Seatrack Web (STW) oil drift forecasting system developed within HELCOM. This tool, in combination with the HELCOM Automatic Identification System (AIS), is used for backtracking and forecasting simulation of detected oil spills, and matching the ship tracks with oil spill backtracking trajectory. STW/AIS has also been integrated with satellite information to increase the likelihood that polluters will be identified.
Source and Image Credit: HELCOM
For more information please read the report “Annual 2013 HELCOM report on illegal discharges observed during aerial surveillance” by clicking on the image below:
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