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The threat of a casualty in the Baltic Sea has increased proportionally with the volume of maritime traffic. It is estimated that 200 million tons of oil will be carried in the Baltic Sea in 2010.1 The severe ice conditions add some flavour to the difficulties in navigation. A recent initiative of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Finland seeks to increase preparedness in case of pollution: volunteer forces that can be activated rapidly when assistance is needed to clean up beaches after an oil spill.

The well-being of the Baltic Sea has been in focus lately, especially as the tanker traffic from Russia has increased. For example, the Helsinki Commission, or HELCOM, which works to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all pollution through inter-governmental co-operation between all the coastal countries, has introduced a recommendation concerning winter navigation.2 Additionally, a new vessel reporting system in the Gulf of Finland (GOFREP)3 became mandatory in July.

The IMO has also recently designated the Baltic Sea, except the Russian waters, a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA).4 MARPOL 73/78 and corresponding guidelines define that such an area needs special protection through action by the IMO because of its significance for ecological, socio-economic or scientific reasons and may be vulnerable to damage by international maritime activities. The Baltic coastal countries will soon submit detailed proposals for specific requirements to control maritime activities in the area.

1  Source: Finnish Ministry of the Environment.
2  HELCOM recommendation No. 25/7 adopted in March 2004 can be found at www.helcom.fi/recommendations/reclist.html.
3  See Gard Loss Prevention Circular No. 08-04.
4  Vessels need to take special care when navigating through such areas. There are currently six PSSAs: the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago (Cuba), Malpelo Island (Colombia), the Florida Keys (US), the Wadden Sea (Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands), and Paracas National Reserve (Peru). The Canary Islands and the Galapagos were approved at the same time as the Baltic Sea. Two additional PSSAs have received preliminary approval and are awaiting final confirmation pending the IMO’s approval of new protective measures proposed for the areas (the Western European waters/UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Ireland and the Torres Strait, between Australia and Papua New Guinea).

Though vessels are just one source of pollution, any effort to minimise the risk of oil spills and raise the preparedness to combat the effects of an oil spill are naturally welcome.

Volunteers assisted the authorities in clean-up in September 2003.
A tired volunteer cleaning up a beach in September 2003.

Volunteers become organised and prepared
In addition to the above, the WWF has recently established a unique initiative of pollution combating forces in Finland, under which volunteers are activated to clean up beaches after an oil spill.

What are the requirements for participants? Not many: one has to be healthy, between 18 and 69 years of age, willing to take part in hard work and donate time to the clean-up efforts. Volunteers will not be compensated for loss of earnings by the WWF or the authorities. However, volunteers’ lost earnings may form part of a claim to be presented to the shipowner. Another option for seeking compensation may be the Finnish Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, which is a secondary source for financing clean-up costs.

The WWF can mobilise volunteers very quickly: e-mails will be sent out and replies from the participants will hopefully follow within hours. It is anticipated that students will be the first to be able to get on site. It is also recommended that those who have jobs discuss with their employers in advance, thus when the alarm comes the employer may feel more sympathetic about letting the employee go for a few days.

Oil combating volunteers in an exercise at Fortum refinery.
 Authorities are in charge
These forces are operationally under the wings of the WWF, but formally it is the Finnish authorities who make the decisions and ask for assistance. They will give the orders and the authorisation to operate. The Finnish authorities have a tradition of working together with volunteer organisations. There are currently more than 40 associations which together form an umbrella organisation called “Volunteer Rescue Services” which is headed by the Red Cross. Authorities who need extra help will contact the Red Cross, which will forward the request to a specific organisation according to the existing alarm system.

Among other things, volunteers assist authorities in giving first-aid and searching missing people. During the 1990s volunteers were involved after the grounding of the passenger ferry SALLY ALBATROSS and the sinking of the ESTONIA, offering psychological help, organising land transportation and providing food and clothes.

So far 2,800 people have joined the oil combating forces and about 200 have been trained as group leaders. The role of the group leaders is considered to be significant as they are links between their own groups working on the beaches, consisting of about 10 individuals, and the authorities, making sure that orders are followed. They have also been taught to use various cleaning equipment in order to pass this experience on to those who join the clean-up.

The volunteers are insured under a group accident insurance policy taken out by the WWF.

Sponsors have a vital role
In case of an emergency the WWF will be responsible for supplying boots, raincoats, trousers, mittens, glasses, shovels, brushes and buckets. These do not come free and that is why the WWF needs sponsors. One of Gard’s tanker members in Finland, Fortum Corporation, is a sponsor. “The idea of these forces had been maturing for a few years but the final impulse was Fortum’s participation. That enabled us to organise training at Fortum’s refineries and we could start acquiring equipment for the volunteers”, says Timo Tanninen, CEO of the WWF Finland.

Towards cleaner seas
The author of this article has participated in the WWF programme training course and has found it very interesting. If the vessel causing a spill in Finland is not entered with Gard, becoming a clean-up volunteer is another way of being useful.

Any comments to this article can be e-mailed to the Gard News Editor.

Gard News is published quarterly by Gard AS, Arendal, Norway.