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Hot spots for risk of oil spill in the Baltic Sea identified

Catastrophic oil spills of 5,000- 150,000 tonnes in the Baltic Sea could occur once every 26 years, and large spills of 300-5,000 tonnes are expected to occur as frequently as once every 4 years, while the major risk area is the south-western Baltic and the Kattegat, according to a BRISK risk analysis.

The findings are a result of a comprehensive risk assessment of shipping accidents and pollution in the whole Baltic Sea which has been produced by the BRISK (Sub-regional risk of spill of oil and hazardous substances in the Baltic Sea) project. This risk assessment is based on a common methodology.

"The risks of the largest spills of 5,000 - 150,000 tonnes of oil in the Baltic Sea are limited to certain hot spot areas along the main oil shipping route, including route junctions in the Baltic Proper and Kattegat as well as narrow straits that lead to the Baltic Sea through the Great Belt," says Peter S. Poulsen, the BRISK Project Manager. "On contrary, the risk of spills of 300 - 5000 tonnes of oil is more evenly distributed throughout the Baltic Sea and as likely on the main oil route as on some other routes, particularly in the waters of Gotland, the Åland archipelago and along the Polish coast."

There are also substantial differences in the intervals between possible spills in these two size ranges in different sub-regions of the Baltic Sea area. These intervals are the shortest in the Sound and the Kattegat, closely followed by the south-western Baltic Sea, and the longest in south-eastern Baltic Proper. Spills are expected to be also less frequent, than in the Sound and Kattegat, in the Gulf of Finland and Gulf of Bothnia (more than four times) and northern part of the Baltic Proper (almost three times).

The risk assessment is accompanied with mapping of environmental sensitivity to oil in the entire Baltic Sea. Seventeen key environmental parameters have been selected and mapped including several habitats, species of marine flora and fauna, and protected areas, as well as human activities. This work reveals that particularly coastal waters, archipelagos and shallow waters are highly sensitive area to oil spills. The sensitivity maps will be further used by the coastal states to assess the impact of oil.

Based on the risk analysis, the nine HELCOM countries will identify the missing emergency and response resources needed to effectively tackle major spills of oil and hazardous substances with the aim to improve and optimize response capabilities in their areas of responsibility.

The BRISK projects aim to increase the preparedness of the Baltic Sea countries to combat major pollution caused by shipping activities. The BRISK project is co-financed by the European Union within the Baltic Sea Region Programme 2007-2013. The Admiral Danish Fleet leads the project, and ten partners from eight countries are involved in it. The BRISK-RU project, financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers, carries out activities in the Russian Federation complementary to the BRISK activities. The Lead Partner of the BRISK-RU project is the Central Marine Research & Design Institute Ltd. in St. Petersburg, and the coordinator is the Information Office of the Nordic Council of Ministers in Kaliningrad.

published 20.05.2011