BALEX DELTA 2018: Baltic Sea region tests its ability to respond to major maritime incidents

The Baltic Sea region’s ability to respond to major maritime incidents will be thoroughly tested once more during the BALEX DELTA 2018 exercise that will be held in Karlskrona, Sweden from 27 to 30 August 2018.

Held every year since 1989, the BALEX DELTA exercises are conducted under the framework of the Helsinki Convention that calls for its signatories – all Baltic Sea nations and the EU – to have the necessary operational capacity and skills to respond to any maritime incident at sea and affecting the shore.

“The Baltic Sea is characterized by dense vessel traffic and high shipping activity. Incidents are therefore bound to happen,” said Monika Stankiewicz, HELCOM’s Executive Secretary, adding that “the BALEX DELTA exercises provide operational testing of response procedures under real world conditions. They keep the region ready and steady for any potential incidents.”

With additional support from the European Union through its DG Echo programme, this year’s edition is larger than usual, dealing with both oil and chemical spills, and with response exercises held at sea and also on shore.

The exercise will simulate a cargo ship carrying chemical containers running aground in harsh weather, with chemicals and oil leaking into the sea and reaching the shore. The spill is so large that it overwhelms the local response capacities, thus calling for a regional intervention.

The BALEX DELTA 2018 exercise will mobilize about 500 personnel from eight countries and the EU. 18 maritime vessels, one aircraft, one helicopter and various clean-up tools will also be deployed.

According to Jonas Holmstrand from the Swedish Coast Guard and one of the lead coordinators, planning an exercise of this scope hasn’t been an easy task, recognizing that the reflection about the challenges will eventually “turn into a great source of knowledge and lessons learned.”

Being a flagship event on the global maritime response calendar, observers from 32 countries will watch the BALEX DELTA 2018 edition. The observers programme offers interested parties from outside the Baltic Sea region a chance to witness the BALEX DELTA exercises, and serves as a networking platform to exchange valuable work experiences.

“Maritime incident response exercise don’t happen every day, and are quite rare at the scale of the BALEX DELTA 2018. The observers programme is an excellent opportunity to witness it from the front row,” said Sonja Dobo from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) and who is the coordinator of the observers programme.

Already in 1977, the Baltic Sea nations signatories to the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea – in short, the Helsinki Convention – set the premises for intergovernmental response cooperation and established an intergovernmental working group, today’s HELCOM Response Working Group.

Since then, the region’s ability to respond to maritime accidents has been continually reinforced. In 1983, the HELCOM Response Manual was first compiled, containing detailed information and procedures on how to handle different maritime accidents at the regional level.

Under the lead of the Swedish Coast Guard, the BALEX DELTA 2018 is co-organised by the County Administrative Board of Skåne:, HELCOM, MSB (Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency), Polish Maritime Search and Rescue Service, and SYKE (Finnish Environment Institute).

The next BALEX DELTA edition will be organised by Denmark.