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Transport Malta conducts simulation exercises on handling oil pollution and ships in need of assistance

03 September 2015

Transport Malta, in conjunction with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), the European Commission, Member States and several local and international industry organisations and stakeholders, has over the past 2 days successfully concluded exercises on handling oil pollution and ships in need of assistance.

On Tuesday the first exercise took place to test the recently introduced ‘Places of Refuge EU Operational Guidelines' which govern the accommodation of vessels in need of assistance, namely ships in danger of capsizing or causing an environmental or navigational hazard. The guidelines were drawn up by a working group formed by Member States including Malta, under the chairmanship of the European Commission and facilitated by EMSA.

The drafting of such guidelines was triggered by various past incidents involving ships in need of assistance. Most notably, the incident on the MSC Flaminia, a container ship that caught fire forcing the crew to abandon the ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, has emphasised the need for enhanced cooperation. It led to discussions as to whether the existing rules and operational practices, in particular when more than one state is involved, are sufficient when Member States have to take tough decisions on offering a safe haven to a ship in need of assistance. This is the second time such an EU wide exercise is held. Apart from Malta, participants included 18 other EU Member States and one EFTA State, the European Commission, EMSA, the Armed Forces of Malta and the Physical Oceanography Research Group at the University of Malta as well as both local and international industry organisations

The second exercise on Wednesday, involved simulating the response to and cleaning up of an oil spill incident occurring off the coast of Xagħjra. The primary aim of such exercise, held annually as part of Malta's international obligations under the OPRC Convention, is to attest Malta's preparedness to handle such incidents whilst ensuring that all synergies are in place in case an oil spill incident had to occur in territorial waters. A number of participating response vessels have deployed response equipment such as booms and skimmers to simulated cleanup operation.

Vessels from Tankship Management and Falzon Group (EMSA), Cassar Ship Repair Yard and Tug Malta participated in this exercise. Other participants included the Malta Maritime Pilots, the Armed Forces of Malta, MEPA, the Civil Protection, the Police Force, the Department of Fisheries the physical Oceanography Research Group and the Health Department (A&E and Environmental Health Directorate). The exercise was directed from TM's Emergency Control Centre at Marsa.