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Adopted 25 June 2003, having regard to Article 20, Paragraph 1 b) of the Helsinki Convention



RECALLING the “Declaration on the Safety of Navigation and Emergency Capacity in the Baltic Sea Area (HELCOM Copenhagen Declaration)”, adopted on 10 September 2001 in Copenhagen by the HELCOM Extraordinary Ministerial Meeting,

RECALLING ESPECIALLY Paragraph XI of the HELCOM Copenhagen Declaration containing the commitment of the Governments of the Contracting Parties to ensure adequate emergency capacity (fire-fighting, emergency lightering and emergency towing capacities),

BEING AWARE that in many incidents satisfactory emergency capacity and the readiness hereof have prevented serious oil spills,

CONSCIOUS of the sensitivity of the marine environment of the Baltic Sea area and of the importance it represents to the people living around it, for economic, social, recreational and cultural reasons,

RECOGNIZING that if harmful substances are introduced to this vulnerable sea they will remain there for a long time,

ACKNOWLEDGING the difficulties the Baltic Sea area presents to navigation due to narrow straits, shallow depths, archipelago areas and ice cover during winter period,

EXPRESSING concern as to the growing density of maritime traffic in the Baltic Sea area and the accidents which have taken place,

BEING CONVINCED of the need to improve the emergency and response capacities in the Baltic Sea area,

TAKING INTO ACCOUNT the findings of the consolidated version of the compilation “Emergency Towing, Fire-fighting and Intermediate Storage Capacity”, according to which only the south-western part of the Baltic Sea and the St. Petersburg area have a satisfactory towing and fire-fighting capacity,

TAKING INTO ACCOUNTFURTHER that the conclusions of the above-mentioned compilation are only relating to the availability of the capacity but are not dealing with the readiness of the ships, 

NOTING that Regulation 2 of Annex VII “Response to pollution incidents” to the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, 1992 (the Helsinki Convention) encourages, as appropriate, the development of bilateral or multilateral  plans for a joint response to pollution incidents,

RECOMMENDS that the Governments of the Contracting Parties keep their national inventories on emergency capacity continuously updated,

RECOMMENDS FURTHER that the Governments of the Contracting Parties ascertain a satisfactory readiness of their emergency capacity. This can for example be done by applying one or more of the below-mentioned procedures:

a)       by elaborating a Memorandum of Understanding between the salvors and the responsible authority,

          i)        stating the normal readiness for the resources, and

          ii)       providing for an immediate exchange of information in case of changes in that readiness, as well as

          iii)       possibly outlining the payment by the authority of part of the improvement costs of the salvor;

b)      by investigating the possibility of drawing up bilateral or multilateral plans, under the Helsinki Convention, for certain sea areas, like the Gulf of Finland and the south-western Baltic Sea;

c)      by taking into consideration, when building new ships, the possibility of installing on board satisfactory emergency capacity; or

d)      by other means,

RECOMMENDS FURTHERMORE that the Governments of the Contracting Parties establish a national training and exercise programme to ensure the effectiveness of their emergency capacity,

RECOMMENDS ALSO that the Governments of the Contracting Parties report on the implementation of this Recommendation in accordance with Article 16, Paragraph 1 of the Helsinki Convention.



To be used when drawing up national implementation reports and for assessing the implementation status of HELCOM Recommendation 24/9 “Ensuring adequate emergency capacity”


1.                   Introduction

Recent regional and national assessment of emergency towing, fire fighting and intermediate storage capacity has shown that especially emergency towing and fire fighting capacity at sea as first-approach-operations to marine accidents are lacking in some parts of the Baltic Sea which are affected by high traffic frequency involving also a high proportion of transported hazardous cargo.

As a number of international marine accidents have shown, the lack of in-time on-scene emergency towing capacity in marine accidents increases the risk of damage to the marine and coastal environment.

Therefore, in the aftermath of the „Sea Empress“ – grounding and oil pollution accident, the International Maritime Organization has presented guidelines for requirements by Emergency Towing Vessels (ETOW vessels). The same necessity exists for lightering capacity in case of damaged or grounded vessels threatening the coastline by the possible discharge of hazardous material on board, whether it may be cargo, machinery fluids, stores or bunker. In a maritime emergency all such operations including fire fighting at sea are normally executed by assisting units, in most cases SAR-, coastguard- and other response units as well as by private salvors.

During the past decades the necessity of governmental action for the provision of ETOW- capacity was not apparent because private salvage companies kept such capacity around the world at all major marine traffic risk positions in order to be close to their markets. Nowadays larger and therefore costly towage capacity is kept in operation by the owners whether it is at oil production plants, at sea or in other services world-wide. Waiting for salvage operations at a fixed position, however, is a very rare type of business today and therefore states authorities have to think how to maintain the availability of ETOW- and lightering capacity along their area of responsibility as a precautionary measure against ships’ groundings and related coastal pollution.

A number of North Sea littorals and countries in other shipping areas of the world have protected specified coastal areas by ETOW vessels contracted on an annual basis or during the bad weather seasons in different stages of availability.

The aim of these guidelines is to inform on technical and operational questions that have to be taken into account when investigating the national or regional ability to respond to marine accidents by emergency towing and lightering capacity in order to protect the marine and coastal environment.


2.                   Areas where emergency capacity is required

In line with the findings of the HELCOM compilation on emergency towing, fire fighting and intermediate storage capacity, emergency capacity is found to be necessary especially in areas where large bulk cargo carriers like oil tankers frequently sail to loading and unloading ports and en route along high frequency shipping lanes presenting a number of  navigational obstacles.

Access to emergency capacity should be provided along the areas of high risk, such as narrow traffic lanes involving high traffic and difficult navigation risks, often with weather and visibility restrictions. Emergency capacity should be tailored to regional shipping requirements (type and size, draft tank sizes, cargo types etc.). There can be different ways in which emergency capacity is being kept in place. A vessel with emergency capacity can be utilised either as patrolling, escorting or stationed vessels.  Possibilities for multi-purpose tasking of such vessels (ice breaker, patrol vessel, hydrographic survey vessel, pollution response vessel etc.) are to be examined. Economical but also reasons of higher preparedness standards of the crew speak for such multi-tasking models.

Where tank cargo is loaded or unloaded, agencies exist which can inform or even charter suitable empty tank space for lightering operations. Less capacity is required for other hazardous substances or packaged goods which perhaps need re-packing. Adequate capacity can be found at chemical production plants, terminals, refineries and specialised fire fighting services. It is advisable to prepare lists of contacts for existing equipment and pre-defined ways of access to it.


3.                   General requirements for ETOW vessels

For an assessment of the requirements for an ETOW vessel, inter alia, the following criteria should be examined:

  • Basis port of the ETOW vessel
  • Permanent or limited readiness (i.e. sailing within 1 or 2 hours)
  • Speed, draught, bollard pull, manoeuvrability, endurance at sea
  • Rough sea capabilities (operations possible in at least Beaufort 9)
  • Modern navigation, On Scene Commander-facilities (communication and
    documentation equipment, etc.)
  • Crew experience, training, sufficient personnel for boarding assistance
  • Special features for safety (i.e explosion proof deck machinery)
  • Multi-purpose tasking features

4.                   How to assess the necessary ETOW capacity

According to recent Baltic States’ investigations the largest vessels operating in the Baltic Sea are tankers and bulk carriers of appr. 150.000 dwt. Other vessels requiring sufficient bollard pull capacity are ferries, car transporters and other RO-RO-vessels being sensitive to wind because of high perimetric side wall surface structures.

After having examined the regional, national or local requirements, decisions on suitable solutions to the above requirements are to be taken into account.

This can be i.e. the chosen status of readiness, range of operation, replacement in cases of repairs, possibility of regional or national co-operation or combination of existing capacity.

When having found the appropriate type of ETOW vessels and agencies offering access to lightering facilities, operative details in line with the identified coverage areas of risk and their varying requirements will then lead to a definition of capacity and action required.


5.                   Final remarks

Provision of emergency capacity is a project that involves the assessment of a number of scientific, nautical, technical and scientific data, expertise and future development. After having found the necessary capacity and the preferred type of operation, thoughts should be given to the possibility of regional or bilateral co-operation.

This is especially appropriate where countries neighbour in close vicinity to each other because this means that coverage areas of risk are either the same or very close to each other.

Such a situation will give the possibility to jointly cover an area sharing costs and amalgamating operating procedures for both sides giving economical but also operative benefits to both partners.

As transport statistics and the number of dangerous cargoes shipped in the Baltic Sea show a permanent rising tendency the provision of improved emergency capacity presents a task of rising importance for the Contracting Parties to the Helsinki Convention.