The Helsinki Commission, or HELCOM, is the governing body of the ‘Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area’ – more commonly known as the Helsinki Convention.
HELCOM works to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution through intergovernmental co-operation between the Baltic Countries. The ratification instruments where deposited by the European Community, Germany, Latvia and Sweden in 1994, by Estonia and Finland in 1995, by Denmark in 1996, by Lithuania in 1997 and by Poland and Russia in November 1999. The Helsinki Convention was last amended in July 2014).
The Helsinki Convention has various technical groups looking at different aspects of marine environmental protection for the Baltic. HELCOM Response, the group dealing with preparedness and response to marine pollution, has taken important steps recently to help Contracting parties with improving their preparedness for oiled wildlife incidents.
The HELCOM Response Manual was originally written to give guidance to Baltic countries for requesting assistance from one another during a pollution emergency. An updated Manual was developed and published in December 2009 with a new chapter on oiled wildlife response. This new chapter means that Contracting Parties can extend their cooperation to situations where national resources are not able to deal with the size or complexity of an oiled wildlife incident. The Manual (Chapter 7) was updated again in 2021 to include a description of the principles and procedures that governmental agencies should apply when requesting and integrating a team of experts (such as the EUROWA network), from abroad.
HELCOM has also published a formal recommendation on Oiled Wildlife Response Planning 31E/6, originally in 2010 and recently updated, providing guidance to Baltic States on developing national oiled wildlife preparedness arrangements.
In 2013 HELCOM Response Member States agreed to develop and adopt national oiled wildlife response plans by 2016. An Expert Working Group on Oiled Wildlife Response (EWG OWR) was formed that same year to strengthen cooperation on oiled wildlife response and to act as a forum for information exchange to facilitate professional oiled wildlife response throughout the region. The Group (which reports to HELCOM Response), uses a Self-Assessment Tool developed by Sea Alarm to report on countries’ progress in developing oiled wildlife preparedness.