When a major accident with hazardous chemicals takes place at sea, efficient cooperation between the authorities of different countries is essential. The EU-funded ChemSAR project involves nine partners from five Baltic countries to develop joint maritime rescue procedures.
The MS Regal Star is sailing from Estonia to Sweden when a toxic gas leak occurs on the car deck, after which, the electricity cuts out. Crew members are injured trying to stop the leak.
Luckily, this is only an exercise.
But if it had been real, what should each Baltic country do to save lives and protect the environment from hazardous substances? How can such a situation be brought under control quickly?
“Huge amounts of chemicals are transported on the Baltic, but national authorities lack a joint operating model for maritime accidents involving hazardous substances,” says ChemSAR project coordinator Kirsi Laitio.
“Major maritime accidents nearly always require rescue personnel from several countries, so standard international practices are of major significance.”
With €2.4 million of financing coming mainly from an EU fund for the Baltic region, the four-year project focuses on developing maritime chemical accident rescue cooperation.
“Training together is important, so that we learn to use rescue equipment effectively and prevent extensive environmental damage,” adds Laitio.
The exercise is challenging, and people at desks and maps and those involved in running models look serious. Police, border guards and rescue officials from five countries are present, along with chemical experts, assessors and observers from other projects. “We want to distribute information as widely as possible,” says exercise moderator Ossi Westilä.
Firstly, it’s agreed that everyone will follow the joint operating procedures already laid down, but things don’t quite go to plan.
“The problems during the first session were beneficial, as participants in the following session paid much better attention to the operating models,” stresses Westilä. “The operation was more effective when everyone realised how important it is to follow the joint model.”