The Balex Delta exercise measures the ability of the Baltic states to combat the devastation of a giant oil spill.
Kotkan Forty cubic cubic meters of popcorn will be dumped in the foreground on Wednesday, which will present a huge oil spill in an international oil spill response exercise hosted by the Finnish Border Guard.
Popcorn works well as a substitute for oil in the exercise, as it is easy to detect, for example, from an airplane.
The Balex Delta exercise, which started on Tuesday, is the largest environmental damage control exercise in the Baltic Sea region. This time, seventeen vessels from the Baltic Sea region and about five hundred people will take part. Only a few states, such as Russia, dropped out of this year’s exercise. The reason is the coronavirus.
On the early evening of Tuesday, it was possible to see a number of ships from different countries marching towards Kotka’s main port to prepare for Wednesday’s exercise, which will probably take place in severe weather.
Border Guard maritime safety expert Pekka Parkkali says popcorn is not the same as what people eat. It is environmentally friendly, he says, and it is also collected mainly from the sea. Popcorn also shrinks in water.
“Naturally, we can’t use oil, so we use popcorn that can be well detected from the air,” Parkkali says.
The exercise scenario is the worst end. Worse, he said, would only be one that also involved a passenger ship. The exercise imagines a situation where a chemical and oil tanker collide on a fairway leading to Kotka and soon both leak.
The chemical tanker is squatting towards the port, but the oil tanker has more serious tears and the next day, Wednesday, it will sink near Kotka.
It will cause a huge oil spill that threatens to render the Gulf of Finland coast and islands unviable for hundreds of kilometers. At the same time, it measures the skills and abilities of exercise participants to minimize destruction and save lives.
One part of the exercise is, for example, the occupational safety issues that rescuers working with a leaking chemical tanker would face.
There are three training areas in front of Kotka. Rescue services, for example, are also involved. The exercise is the largest in the Baltic Sea, but according to the organizers it is also significant on a global scale.
“Risks are growing and becoming more complex, ”says the Commander of the Border Guard Mikko Simola.
The Finnish Border Guard has been responsible for combating marine environmental damage since 2019.
According to Simola, 200 vessels pass through Finnish territorial waters every day, a quarter of which contain oil products. There are 120 ships in the Gulf of Finland every day and a large part of them call at one of the six oil terminals in the Gulf of Finland.
Part of the risk is that the routes of tankers often intersect with passenger ships between Finland and Estonia. According to the Border Guard, the exercise scenario is possible precisely because there is so much traffic.
The cargo is also huge, at best one ship can hold 150 tons of oil. In 2019, a total of 180 million tonnes of oil passed through Finnish waters.