Project to consider the potential dangers of rapidly growing oil shipments across the Baltic Sea

An inaugural meeting was held on 3 November at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs to commence work on a three-year project aimed at developing a better understanding of the potential dangers to the environment, and to the crisis management capacity of states in the region, arising from the rapidly growing volume of oil shipments across the Baltic Sea. These are considered to be insufficiently governed by overlapping and uncoordinated sets of rules both national and international. Erik Ranheim, INTERTANKO's Manager Research and Projects Section, participated. 

As of 1 May 2004 the Baltic Sea is in essence an inland sea in the European Union (EU). The EU environmental regulations apply in old and new Member States, but not in Russia and Kaliningrad. But the EU regime is not the only regime (a set of norms and principles) that applies in the region. Several other rules and principles apply:

·                     the HELCOM rules for increased naval security;

·                     the International Maritime Organization (IMO) conventions;

·                     and the United Nations Law of the Sea.  

Within the EU framework, there is a system to address conflicts between environmental regulations and other rules, such as on trade. There is no such system, however, for solving conflicting regulations between regimes.  

Until recently, Ventspils in Latvia was the largest export harbour. Because of deteriorating relations with Latvia, Russia has, however, redirected its export shipping to domestic ports and has for this purpose invested in the construction of large oil terminals in the Gulf of Finland. The shipping terminal in Primorsk outside St. Petersburg has replaced Ventspils as the main port for Russian oil exports from the Baltic. 

The group's initial perception was that large amounts of oil are transported across the Baltic Sea on a daily basis, sometimes carried in substandard tankers, and that the dangers are particularly high in wintertime when the Gulf of Finland is frozen.

Using figures and information from Fearnleys and Riverlake, Erik Ranheim demonstrated that the oil from the Baltic and the Murmansk area is transported by modern double hull tankers. He further provided data showing that the ice-classed tanker fleet is now increasing more than sufficiently to cover the need for such tanker transport from Russia. He also pointed out that some 90% of Russian oil is actually destined for Europe. 

In contrast to one view presented to the group that the risk of an oil spill incident could best be reduced by measures related to tankers, Ranheim pointed out the importance of places of refuge in the area, adequate pilotage, availability of tugs and pollution prevention equipment, ice-breakers, traffic lanes, and an efficient reporting system. All these measures need close co-operation between the Baltic States 

A student doing a thesis on this project had also pointed out that he had actually only come across two pollution accidents involving tankers in recent years, one of which was the new double-hulled Baltic Carrier, which was involved in a collision outside Denmark in 2001 and spilt some 1,900 tonnes of heavy fuel oil. 

The project is planned to run for three years with three project researchers running parallel studies, plus the project coordinator. The first year of the regional study will be spent taking an inventory of the existing regimes and mapping the overlaps and gaps between them. At the same time, the project participants will carry out initial studies. The second year will be spent gathering empirical material in the form of documents and interviews with practitioners and researchers. The final year will be devoted to analysis. 

It is hoped that the project will generate new knowledge of the conflicting aspects of regimes in the Baltic region and contribute to decision-makers' ability to evaluate current political practices and assess alternative future policy strategies to promote environmental protection and sustainable development in the Baltic Sea region.  

Contact: Erik Ranheim