Baltic Sea



Helsinki Convention • Helsinki Commission

The 1992 Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (Helsinki Convention) entered into force in 2000. The riparian states, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and the Russian Federation, are Contracting Parties. The objectives of the Convention are to:

  • prevent and eliminate pollution in order to promote the ecological restoration of the Baltic Sea and the preservation of its ecological balance;
  • apply the precautionary principle;
  • promote the use of Best Environmental Practice and Best Available Technology;
  • apply the polluter-pays principle;
  • to ensure that measurements and calculations are carried out in a scientifically appropriate manner; and
  • ensure that the implementation of the Convention does not cause transboundary pollution in areas outside the Baltic Sea Area.

Efforts to reduce ship-generated wastes have also been called for in Ministerial Decisions and Declarations of the Environment Ministers of the Baltic Sea States in 1994 and 1998.

According to Annex I (hazardous substances) to the Convention, Contracting Parties shall, in their preventive measures, give priority to substances which are generally recognized as harmful substances. Oil and petroleum of natural origin are listed among the groups of hazardous substances. Other Annexes that deal with oil are: Annex IV on prevention of pollution from shipsAnnex VI on prevention of pollution from offshore activitiesAnnex VII on Response to pollution incidents.

HELCOM decisions on measures are mainly made as Recommendations to be implemented by the countries through their respective national legislation. See Recommendation 19/17 on measures in order to combat pollution from offshore units. • Recommendation 20/5 on minimum ability to respond to oil spillages in oil terminals. • Recommendation 23/8 on reduction of discharges from oil refineries.

In addition to the obligations laid down in the Convention and its Annexes, efforts to reduce pollution from shipping and from ship-generated wastes have also been called for in Ministerial Decisions and Declarations, most recently in the 2001 Copenhagen Declaration on the safety of shipping (as a follow-up of the Baltic Carrier incident).

  • New routes will be mapped out: the deep-water route northeast of Gedser in the Kadetrenden will be extended in January 2002.
  • Also amendments to existing shipping traffic separation schemes will be made and new deep-water routes are to be designated in the Gulf of Finland and off Gotland.
  • The increased use of pilots will promote safe navigation in the high-risk areas "Route T" the Sound.
  • Hydrographic surveys of the main shipping routes will be regularly carried out to avoid groundings by providing ships with most actual updated information on water depths.
  • The use of the state-of-the-art ECDIS (electronic charts display and information system) navigational tool will be promoted, especially on ships whose cargoes pose a particular risk to the marine environment. Electronic navigational charts will cover all major shipping routes by the end of 2002, and be accepted as an equivalent to paper charts.
  • Land-based Automatic identification systems (AIS) monitoring systems will be installed to monitor shipping. Denmark and Germany will set up 24-hour AIS monitoring for the Kadetrenden.

See also more on HELCOM and shipping:


The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (Helsinki Commission, HELCOM) is the governing body. The work of the Commission is carried out by five subsidiary bodies and a Programme Implementation Task Force (for the Action Programme JCP) and complemented by different working groups and projects.

  • HELCOM Response works to ensure swift national and international response to maritime pollution incidents; to ensure that in case of an accident the right equipment is available and routines are in place to respond immediately and in co-operation with the neighbouring states; to analyze the developments in maritime transportation in the Baltic and investigates possible impacts on the international response cooperation; and to coordinate the aerial surveillance of maritime shipping routes to provide a complete picture of the sea-based pollution in the area and to reveal suspected polluters. The implementation of the Baltic Strategy is co-ordinated by HELCOM Response.
  • HELCOM Maritime works to prevent any pollution from ships (from operational discharges as well as accidental pollution). It works to ensure that adopted regulations are carried out in an efficient and harmonized way, including close cooperation in enforcing violations of the regulations; to identify and promote actions to limit sea-based pollution while ensuring safe navigation; to promote the adoption of international regulations at regional and international level.
  • HELCOM Land identifies current and emerging issues related to point and diffuse sources of land-based pollution, proposes actions and promotes investment activities in order to reduce emissions and discharges.
  • Elimination of particularly serious point sources of sewage and waste water discharge is included in the 20-year Baltic Sea Joint Comprehensive Environmental Action Programme.

Copenhagen Agreement
. The 1971 Copenhagen Agreement (revised in 1993) between Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, addresses marine oil pollution. The Contracting Parties agree to cooperate on surveillance, investigations, reporting, securing of evidence, combatting and assistance in combatting, as well as general exchange of information in order to protect the marine environment from pollution by oil or other hazardous substances. (Site only available in Swedish. Text of the agreement available in Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish).

Baltic Strategy
The Baltic Strategy on Port Reception Facilities for Ship-generated Wastes was adopted in March 1996 by all the countries around the Baltic Sea as a means of international co-operation to stop discharges of wastes from ships in the Baltic Sea. It was adopted as HELCOM Recommendation 17/11, and the implementation of the Strategy is co-ordinated through the framework of HELCOM. The Strategy has been further elaborated through a number of HELCOM Recommendations. In March 2001, an additional Recommendation (22/3) on unified interpretation to ensure harmonized and effective implementation of the Strategy was adopted.

A network of reception facilities for oily wastes, garbage and sewage will be established in the ports around the Baltic Sea. These facilities are to be easily accessible and modernly equipped. The handling of waste from shipping will be monitored through an international control and surveillance system. Sanctions in case of violations of the regulations will be equally severe throughout the region.

See also the 2000 EU Directive on port reception facilities for ship-generated waste and cargo residues.

Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control
The Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control consists of 19 participating maritime administrations and covers the waters of the European coastal states and the North Atlantic basin from North America to Europe. It aims at eliminating the operation of sub-standard ships through a harmonized system of port state control. Annually, over 18,000 inspections take place on board foreign ships in the Paris MoU ports, ensuring that these ships meet international safety and environmental standards, and that crew members have adequate living and working conditions. See, for example, a list of banned ships (ships that jump detention or fail to call at an indicated repair yard are banned: these ships will be refused access to any port in the region of the MoU), as well as a list with photos of number of rustbucket vessels. Similar MoUs have been developed for the Mediterranean, Asia (the Tokyo MoU), Latin America (the Vina del Mar MoU), and Indian Ocean (Indian Ocean MoU).

Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes • UNECE
Convention: The UN ECE (Economic Commission for Europe) Convention of the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) is intended to strengthen national measures for the protection and ecologically sound management of transboundary surface waters and groundwaters. The Convention obliges Parties to prevent, control and reduce water pollution from point and non-point sources. It also includes provisions for monitoring, research and development, consultations, warning and alarm systems, mutual assistance, institutional arrangements, and the exchange and protection of information, as well as public access to information. There is a Protocol to the Convention on water and health, and one on civil liability.

Commission: The primary goal of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is to encourage greater economic cooperation among its member States. It focuses on economic analysis, environment and human settlements, statistics, sustainable energy, trade, industry and enterprise development, timber and transport. UNECE activities include policy analysis, development of conventions, regulations and standards, and technical assistance. It has 55 member States, and over 70 international professional organizations and other non-governmental organizations take part in UNECE activities. The UNECE provides the Secretariat for several environmental conventions, including the Convention of the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (see more on the UNECE Environment and Human Settlements Division).

Baltic Sea Regional Project
  • ICES on the Baltic Sea Regional Project
  • HELCOM on the Baltic Sea Regional Project
  • World Bank on the Baltic Sea Regional Project
  • GEF on the Baltic Sea Regional Project

The objective of the World Bank–GEF Baltic Sea Regional Project (BSRP) is to increase sustainable biological productivity, improve coastal zone management, and reduce agricultural non-point source pollution through the introduction of ecosystem-based approaches for land, coastal and marine environmental management. The project is based on the Large Marine Ecosystem concept. It will provide support to integrated land, coastal and open sea activities to strengthen the local and regional capacity for achieving sustainable ecosystem management of the Baltic Sea resources. Activities for the project will be undertaken in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the Russian Federation, along the Baltic coastal areas and in the adjacent coastal and open sea areas. The long-term goal is to provide the three cooperating international bodies in the Baltic Sea Region — HELCOM, the International Baltic Sea Fisheries Commission, IBSFC, and the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, ICES — and the recipient countries, with management tools for sustainable agricultural, coastal and marine management, while improving social and economic benefits for the farming, coastal and fishing communities.

Baltic Ports Organization
The main objective of the Baltic Ports Organization (BPO) is to improve the competitiveness of maritime transport in the Baltic region by, inter alia, good environmental behaviour. The task of the BPO Environment Committee is to set guidelines for member ports in order to improve their environmental behaviour (BPO Environmental Policy), and to follow the international development on environmental matters. BPO is an observer to the Helsinki Commission.

Coalition Clean Baltic
Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB) is a politically independent, non-profit association. Currently CCB unites 27 member organizations from Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden. Together the member organisation have over half a million members in all countries around the Baltic Sea. The main goal of CCB is to promote the protection and improvement of the Baltic Sea environment and natural resources. CCB works mainly through means of lobbying, information, environmental education and other activities to raise public awareness, concrete co-operation projects in the field, and support to member organizations. "Harmful installations and transports" is one of the CCB Priority Areas, The goal is to protect the Baltic Sea environment from negative impacts of harmful installations and transports. To raise public awareness of negative consequences by existing or planned harmful installations such as: oil terminals and oil platforms; nuclear power plants; pulp mills; transport infrastructure; transports (in particular of radioactive materials, oil and other hazardous substances).

European Sea Ports Organization
The European Sea Ports Organization (ESPO) aims at influencing public policy in the European Union and to achieve a safe, efficient and environmentally sustainable European port sector, operating as a key element of a transport industry where free and undistorted market conditions prevail, as far as practicable. According to ESPO, ports are concerned about the environment. ESPO believes that maritime transport is central to the issue of sustainable development within Europe. The ports support measures to reduce marine pollution and discourage dumping of waste at sea. See the ESPO Waste Management Plan For Ship Generated Waste. See also a compilation (PDF file, 1.5 MB) of presentations and discussions at the ESPO/IAPH workshop on port reception facilities for ship-generated waste and cargo residues (June 2001).

UNEP Regional Office for Europe
The UNEP Regional Office for Europe promotes intergovernmental policy dialogue and regional cooperation, increases national capacity for environmental management and response emergencies, raises awareness and enhances information exchange, and translates global policies into regional action.