Shipping threats to the Baltic Ecoregion

A sea exposed to oil accidents

The Baltic Sea is one of the oldest trading routes in Europe, with some of the busiest maritime traffic in the world. Today it represents a strategic route for oil exports from Russia and the Baltic States.

One major ship accident per year
The amount of oil and oil products transported in the Baltic has doubled since 1997 and is expected to increase to up to 160 million tonnes per year.

A large number of islands, shipping routes difficult to navigate, slow water exchange and long annual periods of ice cover all make the Baltic Sea particularly sensitive to the effects of international shipping.

Apart from oil tankers, chemical tankers, containers and bulk carriers of often more than 100,000 tonnes sail through the narrow straits of the Baltic Sea, and their lanes are also often crossed by fast passenger ferries and pleasure boats.

In addition, sub-standard shipping practices dramatically increase the risks of severe oil accidents.

On average, the Baltic Sea has experienced one major ship accident per year since 1980 resulting in oil spills larger than 100 tonnes.

The latest serious oil spill in the Baltic Sea was in 2001 when the Bulk Carrier Tern and the tanker Baltic Carrier collided in the Kadet Fairway. Approximately 20,000 seabirds were contaminated.

Related site
HELCOM is the governing body of the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area - more usually known as the Helsinki Convention.

Fast facts about shipping and oil in the Baltic Sea

  • 15% of the world's maritime transport takes place on the Baltic Sea.
  • Oil transportation has doubled in the Baltic Sea in the past six years, and it is expected to increase up to 160 million tonnes per year by 2010.
  • Since 1980, the Baltic Sea has experienced on average one major shipping accident resulting in oil spills larger than 100 tonnes each year.
  • The biggest tankers can contain more than three times as much oil as the amount that leaked out of the tanker Prestige off the Spanish coast in 2003, causing the death of over 300,000 birds.
  • If you put the oil from a 100,000-tonne tanker in tanker trucks driving in the road, the line of trucks will extend a distance of 225 kilometres. Imagine if that amount of oil leaks to the sea.
  • There are over 500 ports in the Baltic Sea
Baltic oil disaster in 2001. / ©: Alfred Schumm
Baltic oil disaster in 2001.
© Alfred Schumm
Baltic campaign success
In April 2004, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) classified the Baltic Sea as Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs). WWF welcomed this decision and encourages the Baltic Sea States to develop and propose effective measures to strengthen the safety of shipping in these areas, such as establishing strictly separated shipping traffic lane, and setting up compulsory pilotage systems. WWF also calls on the Russian Federation to add its waters to the Baltic Sea PSSA.
The sites of ship accidents in the Baltic Sea in the years 1989-1999. Source: Marine Safety in the ... / ©: WWF
The sites of ship accidents in the Baltic Sea in the years 1989-1999. Source: Marine Safety in the Baltic Sea, Report from the Land Parliament of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Germany), 2001, Volume 1, page 107 from: HELCOM SEA 2/2001 3.1; 3.01.2001
© WWF

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