Pollution control operations


Published: 8 May 2008

Serious oil pollution incidents often have far reaching consequences when they occur, and the sometimes heavy financial consequences continue to put anti pollution measures high on the agenda both nationally and internationally.

This also means that any escape of oil or other pollution – whether intentional or accidental – is very likely to be detected.

Pollution does not respect national boundaries, and the national authorities will often have to cooperate and assist each other in connection with pollution prevention, pollution control etc. National authorities also continue to develop their capacity for supervision.

Countries around the North Sea and the European Community have formalised their cooperation under the Bonn Agreement, and under this regime the participating countries have adopted a Counter Pollution Manual, which includes not only information needed for counter pollution operations but also general reference material concerning their policy and strategy of combating pollution and a section on administration related to accidents. There are also recommendations concerning radio communications in joint combating operations and cooperation in aerial surveillance over the North Sea.

This cooperation under the Bonn Agreement has its own web site with a great deal of further information which owners as well as charterers may wish to consult in order to have a better understanding of how the national authorities around the North Sea cooperate and combat pollution. The web site may be found at www.bonnagreement.org.

Within the Bonn Agreement regime, a number of exercises are conducted each year and the Bonn Agreement web site lists a flight programme for various exercises each year and also the scheduled programme for the so-called Coordinated Extended Pollution Control Operations (CEPCO). The timing for these exercises and the extended intensive supervision is not announced in advance.

The outcome of these exercises and national cooperation can help to give some pointer as to the number of incidents which occur each year in the area submitted to special, intensive supervision over a certain period.

Under the CEPCO programme, a number of so-called “Super CEPCOs” are held, and the most recent “Super CEPCO” was in fact coordinated by Denmark, supported by Norway and Sweden in April 2008.

The majority of maritime traffic either entering or leaving the Baltic Sea pass through Danish waters with the two major routes being the Great Belt and the Sound and approx. 65,000 vessel pass through these two lanes each year. These lanes are rather narrow and there can be a serious risk of pollution perhaps especially from collisions or groundings.

The Danish navy each year receives reports of some 350-400 suspected oil spills – these may have their origin in either natural causes (such as algal bloom), operational spills from ships or platforms or outright accidents.

During the recent Super CEPCO 2008 exercise, a total of 61 sorties were flown resulting in a total of 185 hours supervision over Danish waters over a period of ten days.

This is very close to an almost constant airborne supervision during this ten-day period and the number of spills observed is perhaps therefore a good guidance as to the number of total pollution incidents which may occur.

During this ten-day period, a total of 17 oil spills were observed and some of these are reported to be looked into more closely. At least one vessel was reported to have been caught “red handed” and the overall number of spills found and the even smaller number which merits closer inspection shows that the number of spills and pollution has shown a downward trend. In 2007 alone, the number of spills observed in Danish waters have fallen by 10%.

That high priority is given to this particular field is shown by the fact that participating countries in this Super CEPCO 2008 were not only Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland but also Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain, who each participated with an aircraft.

This kind of almost “constant supervision” cannot be maintained for any longer period of time by any nation, but – in addition to airborne supervision – the Danish authorities are now assisted by more than 7,000 yachtsmen who have signed up as being “oil pollution observers” for the Danish navy.

This particular arrangement has now been supplemented by a cooperation agreement between the navy and the Royal Danish Aeroclub, who has some 7,000 pilots as members and who will therefore also be available to report on any spills observed.

In other words, the capacity of Danish authorities to maintain both sea and air borne supervision is supplemented by approx. 14,000 “free-lance” observers.

It is increasingly unlikely that a vessel causing pollution can escape undetected.

There are, however, even within Europe, some differences with regard to what is required in terms of evidence in order for a fine to be imposed. Some countries accept that a fine can be imposed solely on the basis of radar and video recordings together with a witness statement from an observer. Other countries still require further evidence e.g. by matching samples from the spill with samples from the vessel but this is also something which continues to be discussed and may change over time.