Tanker runs aground in Gulf of Finland - major environmental disaster averted
Double hull prevents leak from tanks holding 100,000 tonnes of crude oil - Neste to buy cargo
A navigational error may have been the cause of the accident early Friday morning when the oil tanker Propontis touched bottom in the Gulf of Finland, says Matti Aaltonen of the Finnish Maritime Administration.
The Greek-registered ship scraped the bottom in Russian territorial waters, west of the island of Suursaari at about two in the morning on Friday. The results could have been catastrophic, as the vessel was carrying 100,000 tonnes of crude oil from the Primorsk oil terminal to Britain.
Meanwhile, the Finnish oil company Neste has agreed to buy the oil cargo of the stricken tanker.
While there was no oil leak, a ballast tank was breached. The ballast tanks are filled with sea water when the 249-metre ship sails without a load.
The tanker was able to continue its voyage after the accident. On Friday evening it was anchored in the Finish maritime rescue zone, just outside Russia’s territorial waters.
Divers examined the damage to the hull on Saturday. In addition to a breach in the hull at the bow, they found three dents on the starboard side. The work took hours, as the submerged parts of the hull comprise a surface area equivalent to that of several football pitches.
There were no signs of an oil leak on Friday evening.
The Propontis is one of numerous vessels that transport oil from Russian harbours at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland.
The increase in transport of oil and chemicals in the gulf has raised concern in Finland. Single-hulled tankers are considered especially hazardous.
Matti Aaltonen says that there are no more single-hulled tankers sailing in the Gulf of Finland, as there had been just a few years ago.
The Propontis is double-hulled vessel, which means that the tank containing the oil is surrounded by the ballast tank, which helped prevent a serious oil disaster.
The Finnish oil company Neste has agreed to buy the 100,000 tonnes of crude oil in the crippled vessel. The oil is to be pumped out at the Neste refinery in Porvoo, near the place where the ship was anchored on Sunday. It is being towed to the refinery’s harbour on Monday, and the oil is to be pumped out on Wednesday.
According to calculations by the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), the increase in oil transport from Russia is will double the risk of an oil spill in the Gulf of Finland by 2015. On Friday, environmental organisations reiterated calls for more efficient measures to fight oil spills.
Russia has suggested that chemicals should be used in fighting oil spills, but the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) prefers to rely on mechanical means for taking oil out of the sea.
On Friday, the Merikarhu, a vessel of the Finnish Border Guard, stayed near the Propontis, in case it was needed to assist the stricken tanker. The guard vessel also has some equipment for fighting oil spills.
"A big challenge will be how to keep oil-fighting vessels in readiness", says head engineer Kalervo Jolma of SYKE.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Researcher: New Russian weapons coming to areas near Finland (9.2.2007)
Parliamentary Committee notes Russian military activity in Baltic (8.2.2007)
Environmental impact of Baltic Sea pipeline greatest in building phase (15.11.2006)