Arctic Marine Infrastructure: Baltic Sea Case Study

(from AMSA Report 2009)



As the Arctic Ocean becomes seasonally ice-covered, coupled with the likelihood of increased marine shipping activity, an evaluation of the Baltic Sea marine shipping regime could be considered as a model for ship operations, information systems, incident response and harmonization of regulations.

The countries of the Baltic Sea Area work to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution through intergovernmental cooperation under the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area and its governing body, the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM). All detailed information of the HELCOM activities is placed on website www.helcom.fi.

The Baltic Sea area is a sensitive marine ecosystem that needs comprehensive nature conservation and protection measures. The Baltic Sea states within the framework of HELCOM designated 89 areas as Baltic Sea Protected Areas (BSPAs) on the basis of their significance for marine nature conservation and protection of habitat and species. Work is still ongoing to designate other offshore areas as BSPAs. In order to harmonize the approaches and implementation process for marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Northeast Atlantic and the Baltic Sea, HELCOM and the OSPAR Commission, the governing body of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, have developed a detailed work program on marine protected areas closely linked to the European Union network for the protection of European fauna and flora, the so-called NATURA 2000 network.

The Baltic Sea States are dependent upon safe, secure and sustainable sea transports. The maritime traffic in the Baltic Sea area is dense and has increased notably since the beginning of the 1990s. The annual turnover for oil and oil products in the Baltic Sea is calculated to be approximately 160 million tonnes. On top of that, 500 million tonnes of other goods are annually transported by ships within the Baltic Sea area. Therefore an extensive regime of protective measures consisting of both international and national regulations is in place inside and adjacent to this semi-enclosed sea; examples of relevant measures are compulsory reporting and traffic surveillance, routing systems, compulsory pilotage and the designation of the area as a Special Area under Annexes I and V; and as a SOx Emission Control Area under Annex VI of the MARPOL 73/78 Convention.

The Baltic Sea has some of the densest maritime traffic in the world. More than 2,000 ships are en route in the Baltic on an average day, not including ferries, smaller fishing boats or pleasure craft. Among those 2,000 ships, some 200 are oil tankers with a cargo up to 150,000 tonnes.

Several ferry lines connect the states in the Baltic proper. Some of the world’s biggest ferries are transporting goods and people between Sweden and Finland and there are several other ferry lines; i.e., between Sweden and Germany, Denmark and Germany, and between Denmark and Sweden. Most of the year intensive fishing for herring, cod and salmon takes place, sometimes in close vicinity to the major shipping lanes. Incidents are not rare considering that up to 2,000 fishing boats could be at sea on an average day. In summer, large numbers of cruise ships from all over the world enter the Baltic Sea area to visit the many coastal cities of cultural interest, such as Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Riga, Gdansk, Rostock, Lübeck, Copenhagen, Visby and Stockholm. Also numerous pleasure craft are sailing between the more than 500 ports or between different archipelago areas in the Baltic Sea. Oil and gas activities are for the time being few, but are expected to grow in the southern section of the area.

Compulsory Reporting and Traffic Surveillance

When ships enter the Baltic Sea they have to go through the Kattegat and the Great Belt or the Sound. There is intense traffic in the northern part of the area, where an extensive part of the traffic goes to and from Denmark as well as to and from the Baltic Sea. Large vessels follow the traffic lane Route T.

It is recommended that all ships of 20,000 gross tonnage and above navigating Route T should participate in the radio reporting service SHIPPOS together with all ships with a draft of 11 meters and more; loaded oil-, gas- and chemical tankers of 1,600 gross tonnage and above; and all ships carrying radioactive cargoes.

The system provides beneficial information to ships about other ship movements in the area. IMO has adopted a mandatory ship reporting system in the Great Belt Traffic Area. Ships with a gross tonnage equal to or exceeding 50 and all ships with a draft of 15 meters or more are required to submit a ship report to the VTS Centre.

Mandatory ship reporting systems have been established nationally by the Baltic Sea states in approaches to oil terminals and other ports. Article 4 of the EU directive 2002/59/EC of June 27, 2002, establishing a community vessel traffic monitoring and information system, states the operator, agent or master of a ship bound to a port of a member state shall report information to the port authority at least 24 hours in advance or in certain cases earlier. The information includes ship identification, port of destination, estimated time of arrival, etc.

A new mandatory reporting system has been introduced in the Gulf of Finland using the Gulf of Finland Mandatory Reporting System, GOFREP. In accordance with the IMO resolution, Finland, Estonia and the Russian Federation require that all vessels exceeding 300 gross tonnage are required to participate in the GOFREP system when sailing in the international waters in the Gulf of Finland. This reporting system will allow automatic reporting with AIS and automatic response from the GOFREP.

IMO resolution MSC.138(76) recommends masters use new and improved navigation equipment including Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) onboard ships navigating Route T with a draft of 11 meters or more; oil tankers navigating the Sound with a draft of seven meters or more; chemical tankers; gas carriers; and ships carrying a shipment of irradiated nuclear fuel, plutonium and high level radioactive wastes (INF cargoes) irrespective of size. ECDIS supports plotting and automatically monitoring ships’ positions throughout their voyage. The risk of collisions and groundings will be reduced by superimposing AIS and radar information on the electronic chart display.

Routing Systems

A transit route (Route T) through the Kattegat, the Great Belt and the Western Baltic has been established for deep draft ships. Routing systems have been established for ships navigating the Sound. A deepwater route (DW) from Bornholm, south of the Hoburgen bank and up to the border with the Estonian Economic Zone fulfilling the IHO S44 standard for hydrographic surveying has been established. With a clearance of 10 nautical miles to the banks, this will allow a ship with, for example, an engine failure, ample time for speed reduction to be able to drop anchor.

Fifteen traffic separation schemes are established and adopted by IMO in eight parts of the Baltic Sea Area. Two schemes are established in Samsø Belt/Great Belt, two in the Sound, one off Kiel lighthouse, one south of Gedser, one south of Öland Island, one south of Gotland Island, two in the entrance to the Gulf of Finland and five in the Gulf of Finland.


Pilotage services are established locally by the port states and are normally compulsory for ships over certain sizes.

Due to the Copenhagen Treaty 1857, ships sailing to or from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea are not required to use pilots. The IMO recommends that when navigating the entrances to the Baltic Sea, local pilotage services should be used by ships as identified in Resolution MSC.138 (76). Certified pilots for the entrances to the Baltic Sea are available in Denmark and, for ships passing through the Sound, in Sweden. Certified Baltic Sea deep-sea pilots are available in all Baltic Sea States.

Weather and Wave Information Systems

Weather and wave monitoring and information systems have been established by the Baltic Sea States in the Baltic Sea area. Weather and wave information is available for seafarers at all times.

Ice Information Systems

Baltic Icebreaking Management (BIM) is an organization with members from all the Baltic Sea states: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, the Russian Federation and Sweden. The overall objective of BIM is to ensure a well-functioning, year-round maritime transport system in the Baltic Sea through the enhancement of strategic and operational cooperation between the Baltic Sea countries in the area of winter navigation assistance. The Internet site, www.Baltice.org(external link), is a single access point to reliable and up-to-date information related to winter navigation in the Baltic Sea area.

Search and Rescue (SAR) Response and Overall Coordination

Search and rescue at sea means saving and protecting lives of persons in distress in the sea area. This includes many different duties like assisting vessels and boats in distress at sea, preventing disasters, searching for missing people and performing medical transport in the archipelago and sea area. The basis for carrying out these duties is enacted in international treaties and decrees. All authorities operating in the Baltic Sea area carry out SAR at sea. Also participating are merchant shipping and voluntary organizations. For example, in Finland, the Border Guard is responsible for SAR service at sea and the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and maritime rescue sub-centers lead SAR operations. When the persons or environment are no longer in danger, commercial companies carry out the salvage of vessels and cargo.

Oil and Other Hazardous Spills Response

The cooperation in combating spillages of oil and other harmful substances in the Baltic Sea area is based on the Helsinki Convention and HELCOM Recommendations on combating matters, adopted by the Helsinki Commission.

In accordance with the Helsinki Convention the Contracting Parties shall maintain the ability to respond to spillages of oil and other harmful substances into the sea threatening the marine environment of the Baltic Sea area. This ability shall include adequate equipment, ships and manpower prepared for operations in coastal waters as well as on the high seas.

According to the Helsinki Convention, the Contracting Parties shall agree bilaterally or multilaterally on those regions of the Baltic Sea Area in which they should conduct aerial surveillance and take action for combating or salvage activities whenever a significant spillage of oil or other harmful substance or any incident causing or likely to cause pollution within the Baltic Sea area has occurred or is likely to occur.

In cases where a Contracting Party is not able to cope with a spillage by the sole use of its personnel and equipment, the Contracting Party in question can request combating assistance from other Contracting Parties, starting with those who seem likely also to be affected by the spillage.

Port State Control

Port State Control systems have been established by the Baltic Sea States in all Baltic Sea ports in accordance with the Paris Memorandum of Understanding.

Aerial Surveillance

By international law, any release of oily wastes or oily water from ships is prohibited in the Baltic Sea, where oil pollution can affect sensitive ecosystems for long periods. But ships persist in making illegal discharges, despite improvements in port reception facilities and a harbor fee system, which means there is no financial gain to be had from polluting the sea. Every year national surveillance aircraft detect several hundred illegal oil discharges in the Baltic Sea. The actual number of illegal discharges is probably much higher than this. In fact, during most years more oil is released on purpose around the Baltic Sea than is spilled accidentally.

Internationally Coordinated Surveillance Flights

The HELCOM states endeavor to fly, at a minimum, twice per week over regular traffic zones including approaches to major sea ports, as well as in regions with regular offshore activities; and once per week over the regions with sporadic traffic and fishing activities. Twice a year, several Baltic Sea states jointly organize surveillance flights (24 to 36 hours): one covering the southern part of the Baltic Sea and another flight over waters further north.

Arctic Maritime Training

Maritime training in ice conditions is available by private companies in the Baltic Sea area. The content of the courses includes ice characteristics and ice classifications, ice charts, ice classes, winterization, ship operations in ice, independent navigation in ice, icebreaker operations and ice navigation in convoy. Training of ship maneuvering in ice is done in a full-mission simulator.


    Arctic Council, 2009, Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), Arctic Council.©