International Balex 2021 exercise promotes preparedness for marine multidisciplinary accidents and environmental damage on the Baltic Sea
The Finnish Border Guard is arranging the international Balex 2021 exercise on marine multidisciplinary accident and environmental damage control measures. The exercise begins in March with a map exercise that is carried out remotely, culminating in a maritime exercise in Kotka on 24-25 August 2021.
The exercise is a part of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission’s (HELCOM) measures. It is held annually in different parts of the Baltic Sea – Finland is hosts the event in 2021. Various international units and experts will participate in the exercise.
The exercise is intended to prepare for a major environmental accident, which is a possibility on the busy Baltic Sea. In the exercise scenario, two tankers collide on the seaway off Kotka. The cargo, oil as well as a hazardous chemical, begins to leak into the surrounding environment. The Finnish authorities and volunteers will take immediate action under the Border Guard’s leadership to save lives and limit damage to the environment. Other Baltic coastal states will also be called for help.
As the Baltic Sea is one of the busiest marine areas in the world, the risk of oil or chemical damage is always present. Increasing volumes of shipping traffic will also serve to increase the variety of risks. Over 36,000 vessels operate annually in the Gulf of Finland alone, carrying over 180 million tonnes of oil. Additionally, there is a large number of pleasure boats as well as merchant and passenger ships operating in the Gulf of Finland.
As the Baltic Sea is narrow, it is particularly vulnerable to oil and chemical accidents. In the event of an accident, an oil spill will drift to the coast quickly, in as little as a few days. The total length of spoiled coast on the broken coastline can be in the hundreds of kilometres. If there is no immediate response, the spill will contaminate the coastline, be a disturbance to the economy, and may cause long-term damage to nature. There is a possibility of a great cost to society. For this reason, it is particularly important to concentrate prevention measures as quickly as possible to the site of a maritime accident.
In addition to border security, the Border Guard is responsible for maritime rescue and prevention of maritime environmental damage. Combating a major oil spill requires cooperation between several authorities and volunteers. In a major maritime accident, over 20 different parties can participate in an operation led by the Border Guard.
In addition to the Border Guard, participants in Balex 2021 include the Kymenlaakso Rescue Department, the Finnish Navy, the WWF, and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. International support is also important. Maritime accidents do not respect territorial limits. The aim of the Balex exercises is to support each state of the Baltic coast in their ability to lead a major oil spill response operation, not only with its own resources, but also with the resources of neighbouring countries. Its objectives are operational planning, leadership and communication, as well as practical environmental damage control measures on the sea and the shores.
The Balex 2021 exercise will be carried out under the leadership of the Gulf of Finland Coast Guard District. The Headquarters of the Finnish Border Guard’s OILSAREX and OILART projects, which are development efforts for developing oil spill control and maritime exercises, serve the exercise’s practical implementation. In its strategy, which is effective until 2027, the Border Guard has set a goal to develop situational awareness and surveillance at sea, and the ability to lead the prevention of environmental accidents. The exercise aims to identify developmental needs that can be considered in operational development.
Being prepared for multidisciplinary maritime accidents requires continuous readiness and competence development. That is why we practice regularly, and why we don’t do it alone.