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The Baltic Sea is one of the world’s busiest waterways. An estimated 9 % of the world’s trade and 11 % of the world’s oil transportation passes through Baltic waters. It is estimated that this will increase by 64 % between 2003 and 2020. For example, the oil transportation has increased by 133 % between 1997 and 2008 and is now over 250 million tonnes per year. Plenty of shallows and narrow passages make parts of the Baltic Sea difficult to navigate. There are around 130 accidents each year, with 10 of these leading to pollution, mostly of oil. The brackish water of the Baltic Sea coupled with a long residence time of water, makes the flora and fauna particularly sensitive to pollution. The Baltic Sea countries are fortunate to never have had a larger oil spill. The largest one, the Globe Asimi in Lithuania in 1981 spilled 16 000 tonnes of oil. Compared to the larger oils spills in other parts of the world, for example the Prestige, that spilled 63 000 tonnes, this is a small amount.

In the Baltic Sea region, several bilateral agreements and international conventions exist to strengthen the cross border cooperation in case of an oil spill. Annual exercises are held by the respective countries’ Navy and Coast Guard on combatting oil spills at sea. These have held multiple joint response operations during the HELCOM Balex Delta exercises for several years. However, this spirit of international cooperation and capacity building has not been the case with the land based oil spill response.

The organisation of the on land oil spill response in the Baltic Sea countries varies. Certain countries have a centralised system, with a federal authority in charge of the response and aided by local resources. Other countries have the local authorities in charge, who are aided by the governmental authorities and resources.

Different countries have worked with contingency planning to a varying degree. Poland for example have had no larger spills at all, but have invested much time and money into response preparedness. Sweden has had several smaller to medium sized spills, but there is large variation between the municipalities concerning the preparedness level. Different nations have set different goals for their oil spill response as well, for example Finland is prepared for an oil spill of 30 000 tonnes, Germany for 15 000 tonnes, Sweden 10 000 tonnes and the Russian Federation for 5 000 tonnes.

The two Baltic Master projects have highlighted the changing patterns related to shipping in the Baltic Sea and the corresponding need to continuously re-assess the threats to coastal environments and communities. One of the important conclusions from Baltic Master II is that the preparedness to deal effectively with oil spills at the local and regional level in most of the Baltic Sea countries is poorly developed. Important aspects are related to the need for updated and well rehearsed contingency plans. The need to test these plans in real exercises with regular intervals must be emphasised in particular. Such practices will test the collaboration between different agencies locally, the cooperation between central and local agencies, and the collaboration across borders. To cover the cost for such an improved preparedness various funding mechanisms can be discussed, one example highlighted in the present report is the development of a fund similar to the Finnish model.

Publication Date



Baltic Master II




oil spill; preparedness; Baltic Sea


Emergency and Disaster Management | International and Area Studies

Oil spill preparedness in the Baltic Sea countries