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Risk assessment in the Baltic Sea: From the sailing ships to the dead swan

Photo: COWI
Map of risk hotspots in the Baltic Sea. Dot size indicating risk of collision. Colour indicating the type of accident. 

Narrow straits make the Baltic coasts vulnerable to oil spills. In case of an oil tanker collision, the oil may well reach land before you can respond. With oil tankers increasing in size and number, one single accident can do a lot of damage.

In a busy sea, where 2,000 ships are navigating at any given time, the risk of shipwreck increases along with the risk of large-scale oil spills. COWI prepared a risk assessment of this scenario for the Baltic Sea protection organisation Helcom – a unique assessment because it evaluates the risk for one specific sea, using the same method across borders throughout the region.

"We are the first to analyse and address the entire chain of processes – from sailing ships to dead swans," says Carsten Jürgensen, Chief Project Manager in COWI's Water and Environment business unit.  

The BRISK project as it is called (Sub-regional risk of spill of oil and hazardous substances in the Baltic Sea), covers many aspects and includes every possible outcome, stipulating probabilities regarding traffic density, type of accident, wind conditions, seasons, extent of spill, emergency services, environmental impact and much more.

A model for different scenarios

Tackling this many outcomes in an analysis is quite a challenge, which is why COWI simplified the results in a model, allowing you to 'push different buttons' (i.e. the assumptions), thereby calculating the consequences of changes. 

"The model allows us to formulate scenarios such as changes to traffic, new routes and improved emergency services and see the resulting effects straight away. The method we applied throughout the region was also approved by all the countries involved, giving us a way to create a common starting point," says Jürgensen. For three years, he has worked on the report with a team of highly specialised experts from different disciplines and departments in COWI.

Hotspots identified

Baltic traffic is expected to increase by 63 per cent from 2003 to 2020, so there are plenty of reasons to review the risk hotspots identified in COWI's analysis. As we speak, Helcom is looking into these hotspots and the most cost-effective responses identified by COWI.

Based on this analysis, Helcom will provide recommendations to the Baltic national authorities on how to reduce risks. 


By Birgitte Theresia Henriksen bihe@cowi.com.

COWI's sea analyses

In 2007, COWI analysed risks of shipwreck in Danish waters for the Danish Ministry of Defense. 

In 2012, the BRISK analysis was published, co-financed by the EU and led by the Admiral Danish Fleet.

Currently, COWI is preparing an analysis of the North Sea for the EU and the Bonn Secretariat. 

All analyses are prepared using COWI's multidisciplinary competences.

LAST UPDATED: 03.07.2014