Arctic Council hones Arctic marine spill emergency response

Table-top discussion looked at big heavy oil fuel spill in icy waters


A Swedish Coast Guard ship participates in a March 7 fuel oil spill clean-up exercise in Finland's Bothnia Bay. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARCTIC COUNCIL SECRETARIAT/ LINNEA NORDSTROM)

A Swedish Coast Guard ship participates in a March 7 fuel oil spill clean-up exercise in Finland’s Bothnia Bay. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARCTIC COUNCIL SECRETARIAT/ LINNEA NORDSTROM)

Here’s a bad-case, critical situation that’s easy to imagine: grounded in icy Arctic waters, the tanker Finter loses 3,000 tonnes of dirty heavy fuel oil in early March off Finland’s Bothnia Bay.

The oil forms a slick among the broken ice, and as the tanker is towed, the oil spreads out.

How to respond to such a probable Arctic marine disaster, in ice conditions, is less easy.

But that’s why a team of circumpolar marine experts met Wednesday, March 7, in Oulu, Finland, under the auspices of the Finland, now host of the Arctic Council, whose eight circumpolar member nations also include Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Greenland-Denmark.

The experts’ table-top exercise—involving discussion of the grounding and the spill scenario—was designed as a follow-up to the Arctic Council’s 2013 Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic directed at testing and improving co-operation and co-ordination in the event of a “real-world marine oil incident” that could impact the Arctic Council’s member states.

On March 7 those present at the table-top exercise also received walk-through of the recently produced Circumpolar Oil Spill Response Viability Analysis, commissioned by the Arctic Council’s emergency spill response working group.

A tweet from the working group called it “very impressive.”

However, Canadian authorities, including the Canadian Coast Guard, have said they are ill-prepared to cope with a spill in icy waters, according to a report prepared last year by the World Wildlife Canada.

This week’s exercise, the third of its kind organized by the Arctic Council, did see a joint live oil-spill exercise from Sweden and Finland take place at the same time, to see how this could support the table-top discussions.

During a March 7 teleconference from Finland, the experts said that while they didn’t look at how exactly the spill would be cleaned up—rather, they talked about the resources to do that job would be rallied across borders after the country where the spill took place and shipping company realized they would need help.

There was, said Jens Peter Holst-Andersen, a Navy commander from Denmark, who chairs the Arctic Council ‘s Working Group Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response, a “robust discussion” on issues such as customs and clearances, logistics and liabilities.

“We talked about ways to overcome them,” said Holst-Andersen, with the focus on how to provide a timely response and assistance.

So far, the Arctic Council’s agreement to deal for an oil spill in international Arctic waters has not been called into operation.

But, in the meantime, the Arctic Council is focusing on what spill clean-up equipment exists in the Arctic and how to respond if there’s ever a real need.

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