Baltic Sea has over 120 ship accidents each year
About once every three days a cargo vessel, tanker, or passenger ship is involved in an accident somewhere in the Baltic Sea.
Last year 121 ships ran aground, collided, caught fire, or were involved in some other type of mishap.
According to figures put out by the Baltic Sea Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) there has been an average of 125 accidents at sea each year since 2004 in spite of efforts by countries in the area to improve safety.
"We need new ideas" says Valtteri Laine, of the Finnish Transport Safety Agency TraFi.
"Fortunately there have been few very serious accidents in the Gulf of Finland. Last year one fishing vessel sank off the Estonian coast, but it is always possible that something serious will happen."
The two most hazardous places in the Baltic Sea are the Straits of Denmark and the area off Helsinki.
There is much north-south maritime traffic between Helsinki and the Estonian capital Tallinn on a route that intersects with shipping going east and west in the Gulf of Finland.
"The worst case scenario would be a collision between a tanker and a passenger ship", Valtteri Laine says.
TraFi wants ships’ crews to report dangerous situations more readily.
"As there are 125 accidents a year, there might easily be ten times as many close calls", Laine says.
TraFi says that if ships would report dangerous situations to the shipping lines, and if the companies would inform officials about the events, officials could analyse the information and make recommendations on how to prevent further problems.
The challenge is how to get a ship’s crew to admit that they committed an error.
TraFi would like shipping lines to follow the example of aviation, which has an advanced culture of safety.
According to statistics, about half of all shipping accidents are caused by human error.
Human error is often caused by physical limitations or a lack of skill on the part of the crew. Sometimes a ship might pass a navigation mark on the wrong side because people on the bridge suffer from fatigue.
Turku Archipelago in the southwest of Finland is especially challenging for the professional skills of ships’ crews. Traffic there is heavy, the routes are labyrinthine and visibility is often very poor.
"A significant part of accidents taking part in Finnish waters occur in ice. A typical case is when an icebreaker tows a vessel that it is assisting. The icebreaker gets stuck in packed ice and the vessel being towed collides with it", Laine explains.
Growth in the volume of sea transport has been seen as one reason why the number of accidents has not gone down in recent years. However, HELCOM’s information on shipping does not support this idea.
The number of ships in the Baltic Sea has fluctuated in recent years according to economic trends.
HELCOM calculates that an average of 2,000 ships sail in the Baltic every day. Missing from the figures are small vessels which do not have Automatic Identification System (AIS) equipment on board.
The most common type of accident is when a ship scrapes the sea bottom or hits a reef. The second-most common accident is a collision either with another vessel or some fixed structure.
Previously in HS International Edition:
This year’s Baltic Sea region oil spill response exercise to take place off Helsinki later this month (7.8.2012)
Thor Liberty leaves Kotka; captain and navigating officer charged with unsafe transport of explosives (9.1.2012)
Human error is greatest risk factor for the sensitive and crowded Baltic Sea (9.6.2011)
Baltic Sea Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM)
Finnish Transport Safety Agency TraFi