UN oceans body does the right thing

Victory for Baltic Sea protection

Feature story - 2 April, 2004
The United Nations´ International Maritime Organisation (IMO) decided today to designate the Baltic sea as a "Particularly Sensitive Sea Area," a decision which Greenpeace has been pushing for years. The IMO regulates shipping worldwide, and has drawn strong criticism in the past for siding with industry at the expense of the environment.

Greenpeace has campaigned for years against unsafe shipping in the Baltic, such as this single-hulled tanker.

The decision opens the way for a stringent environmental control of international shipping in the Baltic.

The Baltic Sea protection status was adopted despite stiff opposition by the Russian Federation, which formed an alliance with Liberia and Panama, the two largest flags of convenience states. Flags of convenience states profit from allowing dirty industries and unsafe oil tankers to travel the oceans practically unregulated.

Greenpeace activist Dima Litvinov was rejoicing in the decision: "This represents two and a half years worth of work by LOTS of people, including two of the Rainbow Warrior crew who were locked up in a Swedish cell for two weeks; groups of volunteers who spent ages in 3-hour-on 3-hour-off watches around the clock tracking dirty ships on their way into the Baltic; activists driving flat-bottom rigid inflatable boats through the icy waters of Estonian and Latvian oil ports in winter to stop a single hulled tanker from docking. And in the end, we won."

"As a citizen of a country bordering the Baltic, I find it encouraging to see the vast majority of Baltic States working together to protect our sea, but I am deeply concerned to see Russia opposing environmental protection," said Sari Tolvanen of Greenpeace. "Unless everyone around the Baltic pays attention, the Russian oil industry is going to jeopardize our future," she warned.

Tolvanen said that the United Nations agency decision was motivated by the anticipated massive increase in shipping due to Russia´s plans to further expand the export of oil through the Baltic Sea passage. Whilst she welcomed the precautionary approach of the rest of the Baltic states, Tolvanen said that much work remains before the Baltic is truly protected. "Countries now have a big job to do, making sure that the framework is filled by a full set of appropriate specific measures."