The Finnish Border Guard with its partners organized the international HELCOM BALEX DELTA 2021 exercise on 24-25 August. This is the first time the Finnish Border Guard is leading such an extensive and multinational environmental damage prevention exercise in Finland. Training activities were be the responsibility of the Gulf of Finland Coast Guard District in cooperation with the Kymenlaakso Rescue Department and other cooperating parties.
The exercise is a part of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission’s (HELCOM) measures on response to spills and maritime incidents. The BALEX exercise is organized annually in different parts of the Baltic, with each country taking turns to organize and lead the event. This year’s exercise will be hosted by Finland. The participants included international units and personnel from Germany, Denmark, Poland, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia and Finland.
The exercise will be held in Kotka, in the eastern Gulf of Finland. The maritime exercise area was located just outside the archipelago of Kotka and shoreside recovery will be practiced on islands and shores west of the City of Kotka.
The exercise focused on commanding, planning and executing a large-scale response operation, in order to manage a serious maritime accident, to prevent loss of lives and an environmental disaster in the Baltic Sea. In the exercise scenario, two tankers collide with each other in a seaway in the eastern Gulf of Finland. As a result, oil and hazardous chemical carried by the vessels leaks into the sea.
As the Baltic Sea is one of the busiest marine areas in the world, the risk of a cross-sectoral disaster is always present. Over 36,000 vessels operate annually in the Gulf of Finland alone, carrying up to 180 million tonnes of oil. As the Baltic Sea is narrow, it is particularly vulnerable to oil and chemical accidents. Spilled oil or chemical spreads quickly in the sea environment. If the spread cannot be contained quickly enough, even hundreds of miles of shoreline may become contaminated. This can be very costly for society.
Combating a major oil spill requires cooperation between various authorities and volunteers. International cooperation is particularly important. Maritime accidents do not respect territorial water borders. The aim of the Balex exercises is to enable each state of the Baltic coast to lead a major oil spill response operation, not only with its own resources, but also with the resources of neighbouring countries.
Support in planning the Balex 2021 exercises was provided by the OILSAREX and OILART projects whose operating models will be tested in the course of the exercise. The projects are financed by the IBA Fund for Regional Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
Being prepared for maritime accidents requires continuous readiness, competence development, and cooperation among all the countries around the Baltic Sea. That is why we practice regularly, and why we don’t do it alone.