Nation unprepared for potential oil spill

  • 2004-12-01
  • By TBT staff
TALLINN - Despite the high probability of an oil-tanker disaster in Estonian waters, authorities have yet to develop an answer for handling such a risk, a report by the State Audit Office released on Nov. 29 said.

Estonia is capable of neither detecting an oil spill promptly nor removing the spill using its own resources, which could endanger the whole Baltic Sea region, audit experts wrote.

The office referred to the fact that since 1993 oil-product transit through the nation's ports has increased by 20 times - and so have related risks. The opening of Russian ports in the St. Petersburg region - primarily Primorsk on the Gulf of Finland - will further increase oil tanker traffic on the Baltic Sea, which currently stands at about 200 oil tankers per day.

The Environmental Protection Agency, a state-run organization, estimated that per decade the probability of an oil tanker leaking into Estonian waters was as high as three to five times.

Despite the increased risks, border guards currently monitor Estonia's territorial waters only once or twice a week. The country owns three vessels that can be used for cleaning an oil spill of about 200 tons, which is about 10 times less than the desired capacity. That, in the opinion of the State Audit Office, is not enough.

Apart from being poorly equipped, authorities dealing with the matter, such as the Environmental Affairs Ministry and the Ministry of Interior, do not cooperate properly in solving the issue, the report claimed.

The document will be presented to the government as a whole since none of the ministries agreed to accept the report's criticism.

The first major oil spill took place in September 2000 in the port of Muuga near Tallinn when the single-hull oil tanker Alambra, sailing under a Maltese flag, lost 240 tons of oil. The spill cost about 130,000 euros to eliminate and caused severe environmental damage to the area.

The government ultimately managed to receive 511,000 euros out of the 2.8 million euros it claimed from the shipping company.

Two years later, in November 2002, Greenpeace activists and French diplomats pushed for a thorough inspection of Byzantio, a single-hull tanker heading from Tallinn to Rotterdam that was reportedly not seaworthy. This marked the second time discussion was brought up among governmental officials over the country's lack of preparation for a major environmental disaster.

In the Alambra case, the Finns supported the clean-up operations with one ship, while Estonian rescue teams mostly used their own resources.