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 Baltic Carrier

SpillsBaltic Carrier

Circumstances of the accident

At around 12:30 am on the night of 28 March 2001 during a storm in the Baltic Sea (Beaufort 9 - very rough sea), the cargo vessel Tern collided with the oil tanker the Baltic Carrier, at the boundary between the German and Danish territorial waters approximately 16 nautical miles southeast of the Danish islands Falster and Møn (collision location: 54°43 N / 12°35 E).

The Tern, flying the Cypriot flag, had set sail from Cienfuegos in Cuba and was en route for Latvia with a cargo of 5,037 tonnes of raw sugar. The tanker Baltic Carrier, registered in the Marshall Islands, was carrying 30,000 tonnes of HFO. She had set sail from Estonia and was on her way to Gothenburg in Sweden to bunker. Her final destination was Milford Haven in Wales.

The Tern rammed the Baltic Carrier in the bow, after veering off course due to rudder failure and ripped open starboard cargo tank number 6 just in front of the bridge house. The Tern then proceeded to the German port of Rostock under her own steam.

The quantity of HFO released was initially estimated at 1,500 to 1,900 tonnes, but was subsequently corrected to 2,700 tonnes (capacity of tank number 6).

The Baltic Carrier after being rammed (source: DR)

About the Baltic Carrier cargo

IFO 380
Density at 15°C 0.9753
Viscosity at 50°C 611 cSt
Flash point 128°C
Pour point 18°C
Naphatalene content 4 %

Oil pollution response

During the course of the first few days following the collision, the bad weather conditions hampered the Danish Coast Guard Authority’s attempts to respond. Fifteen Danish, Swedish and German vessels took to sea either to spot slicks or recover the oil. As the oil was very viscous, mechanical diggers were just as efficient as standard skimmers. On Sunday 1 April, 940 tonnes were recovered at sea. Airborne and satellite-based surveillance was maintained from the outset. Unlike the Erika incident, weather conditions enabled the satellites to spot the slicks and the footage was made available by ESA, the European Space Agency.

Drifting oil slick

Despite the fact that this HFO tended to form a stable reverse emulsion rendering it highly viscous, the oil was not left in the water for very long and could therefore be pumped. On Monday 2nd April, two vessels lightered the Baltic Carrier, which was then towed to a repair yard on 4 April. After the wind dropped to a force 4 southwesterly wind, it pushed the slicks towards the Danish islands of Falster and Møn.

On 29 March at 5:30 pm the oil slicks began to beach at Grønesund and hit the islands of Bogø, Møn and Falster, soiling a 50 km stretch of coastline. On 30 March, the Danish Civil Defence Corps was on the scene and set up a command post in the village of Stubbekøbing. Eight recovery sites were set up, with a work force of about 210 responders who carried out the clean-up operation.

Further to a request from the Danish Authorities, the EC Task Force was mobilised. A team of three (Gilles Vincent from the EC, Stéphane Le Floch and Bernard Le Guen from Cedre) was immediately sent to the scene. From 1st to 5th April, the experts identified the polluted areas and drew up a list of response techniques likely to be required.

Initial emergency clean-up was performed under the responsibility of the Danish Civil Defence that opted for heavy duty machinery and equipment requisitioned from local companies and in particular from construction companies (diggers, bulldozers, tippers, suction tanks). It is important to point out that substantial quantities of oil were recovered by the end of day 3 (2,000 tonnes). But the physical impact on the upper foreshores and on the banks was considerable, partly due to the fact that many of the banks were in the high tide zone and therefore very sensitive. Environmental deterioration could have been lessened if the authorities had opted to pump the oil, in view of the fact that weather conditions at the time were favourable for the onshore response phase.

Diggers in action (source: Cedre)

Task Force experts came to the conclusion that approximately 50 km of coastline had been polluted and in some areas the slicks were very thick, especially in the small coves. The areas in question were marshlands and pebble beaches. The response conducted on the beaches involved using a bulldozer to remove a layer of polluted pebbles and of transferring them by lorry to a washing station (disused quarry). The pebbles were washed with water and surfactant and put back on their original beach.

Name: Baltic Carrier/Tern

Date: 29 March 2001

Location: Denmark

Accident area : Kadet fairway, Jutland islands, Baltic Sea

Cause of spill : collision

Quantity transported : 30,000 tonnes

Type of pollutant : heavy fuel oil

Quantity spilled : approximately 2,700 tonnes

Ship type : oil tanker

Date built : 2000

Flag : Marshall islands

As far as the marshlands were concerned, equipment deployment had been tricky and lengthy. The marshlands were highly sensitive habitats, classified as nature reserves and were in fact bird sanctuaries. The birds had already started nesting which explained why so many of them had been oiled right from the start of the spill. It is noteworthy that the Danish Authorities decided to systematically eliminate the oiled birds rather than clean them.

Slick close to a marshy area (source: Cedre)

The ECTF assignment came to an end on 4 April after a meeting in Copenhagen in the Civil Defence Force offices. At that point in time, the quantities of recovered oil could be broken down as follows:

  • 250 tonnes were pumped from the bulb of the Tern as the collision had been so violent that the oil had been trapped in the bulb
  • 965 tonnes were collected at sea: 15 Danish, Swedish and German vessels took part in the pumping operation on the slicks
  • 920 tonnes were collected on the beaches from 31 March to 3 April 2001.

After removing the bulk of the oil, the 200 responders from the Civil Defence Corps left the area on 10 April after recovering 3,950 tonnes of polluted waste. The local and regional authorities took over and collected a further 6,800 tonnes (July 2001). The collected waste was mainly sand (no seaweed or debris) and was evacuated to Nykobing. The rest was incinerated at the Nyborg treatment station. Approximately 2,500 dead birds were recovered at sea and onshore.

Storage on a barge (source: Cedre)

Conclusions and recommendations

In the feedback report written by the Danish Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), conclusions and recommendations were made regarding maritime safety in the Baltic Sea, in addition to how to organise, equip and train response teams. The report points out that co-operation really did occur for all concerned, despite the fact that overall responsibility for the operation was far from optimal. Responders were clearly seen to be dedicated and fully available to do the job in hand which is why they did so well. All the more so, when one considers that the response equipment they used was not geared to dealing with heavy, viscous oil. Throughout the entire clean-up operation, systematic attempts were made to find alternative technical solutions to deal with the spill. In the future, the optimisation of response conditions will have to be revamped in terms of available response equipment.

One other major lesson learned during the response operation was that the highest priority has to be given to training Crisis Management Executives in the co-ordination of complicated and lengthy response jobs. The Baltic Carrier spill has clearly identified the need for coherent response plans, at national level, that include job descriptions and guidelines on how best to conduct and manage an operation of this size in addition to co-ordinating local, county and regional plans that are necessary components of the National Contingency Plan.

See also


Last update: April 2006

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