Opening speech by Heli Haapasaari, chair of the HELCOM Response Working Group

Speech by Heli Haapasaari, chair of the HELCOM Response Working Group, on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the BALEX DELTA 2018 exercise, Karlskrona, Sweden, 27 August 2018


Heli Haapasaari, chair of the HELCOM Response Working Group

Dear participants of the 29th Baltic Sea operational marine pollution response exercise!

As the chair of the HELCOM Response Working Group, I am very pleased that the BALEX DELTA 2018 exercise incorporates the work of each expert working group under HELCOM Response.

Besides the at sea oil response, we also have an at sea chemical response. We will also be working with submerged dangerous objects, and aerial surveillance is giving us the situational picture. In addition, the on shore response is incorporated as a table-top exercise and contains elements of oiled wildlife response as well.

HELCOM has been – and still is – a forerunner in many aspects of the marine pollution response. The Helsinki Convention that was already signed in 1970 has been amended over the years to include new forms of cooperation to protect the Baltic Sea from pollution and contamination.

One of the changes in the latest amendment widened the HELCOM Response cooperation to also cover cooperation dealing with oil and chemical pollution response on shore. The contamination of the shore is an aspect that is present in the majority of marine pollution incidents but – to my knowledge – is not covered by any other regional agreement than the Helsinki Convention.

So once again, we are setting the scene for the other agreements! I am sure that the hard work that we have carried out to incorporate the on shore and at sea response under the same operational umbrella will be used as a model by other regional agreements later on.

In just a few hours from now, at 02:00 in the morning, the action will start! In fact, the key persons of this exercise have already met this afternoon in the captains meeting in which the final operative instructions were shared between the vessels and the exercise command.

Before we reached this point, a lot has been done – lots of planning, but also operational alerting. Requests for international assistance have already been exercised in spring and then repeated two weeks ago.

Planning this wide variety of different marine pollution response related tasks requires a lot of work and great level of information sharing. A total of three international planning conferences have been arranged by the Core Planning Team during the spring.

This assured that the needs and wishes of the HELCOM Contracting Parties were taken into account when setting the scene for this exercise. I would like to thank all the participants of the planning conferences for their valuable contributions.

I am convinced that all the building blocks are in place!

We will hear the preliminary findings of the exercise evaluation during the debriefing on Wednesday. After a deeper analysis, more refined findings and conclusions will be presented and discussed in the after action review seminar in Germany later in November.

The intention is to give recommendations to the HELCOM Response meeting in spring 2019 on how to enhance the HELCOM exercise framework. These recommendations might also include proposals about the operational cooperation between the Helsinki Convention Contracting Parties.

EU is a signatory of the Helsinki Convention as well and has contributed to the Balex Delta 2018 to a great extent – DG ECHO granted significant financing to the exercise via the EU Civil Protection mechanism which allowed the upscaling of the exercise when comparing to an ordinary Balex Delta. European Maritime Safety Agency EMSA is participating with a recovery vessel and also in the equipment demo.

Visitors and observers from 32 countries – EU as well as non EU states – and numerous international organisations have joined us to observe but also to share their expertise during the exercise and in the seminars related to it.

I would like to thank the Baltic Sea states for committing – once again – to participate in the Balex Delta by sending their vessels and experts, and to allow us to test and train the international marine pollution response cooperation under the HELCOM umbrella.

We have 20 vessels and aircraft with total of 220 crew members, and the on shore table-top exercise will have over 70 participants! In addition almost 150 observers as well as a great number of exercise staff will participate. Altogether, we have 550 participants in this great event!

Have a good, cooperative and innovative exercise!