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The Rising Risk Of Russian Oil Spills In Scandinavia

The narrow waterway between Denmark and Sweden – a key chokepoint for oil supply from Russia’s western ports – will see the risk of oil spills increase when the EU sanctions against Russian oil exports by sea enter into force at the end of this year.   

The UN agency International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Danish maritime authorities strongly recommend the use of a specialized pilot on ships passing through the Danish straits with its many islands. Although not obligatory, the recommendation is widely followed by the industry, with pilots being used on 95% of all 196 oil tankers that crossed the Great Belt, the main channel in the straits, last month, per data from the Danish Maritime Authority cited by the Financial Times.

However, the EU sanctions against Russian oil exports by sea would in theory ban the provision of EU maritime transportation services to vessels carrying Russian oil, including specialized pilots from Denmark to help navigate the Danish straits. This, if not addressed, could raise the risk of dangerous and environmentally-disastrous oil spills from ships that would not use a specialized pilot or try to go dark and circumvent the sanctions.

“Failure to comply with the rules and recommendations of the IMO will not only pose an environmental risk to Danish territorial waters. It will also pose a risk to the safety of navigation and the crew members on board the ships,” the Danish Maritime Authority told FT.

The authority and the IMO “highly recommend” the usage of pilots on ships traveling through the Danish straits, but still, the Danish Maritime Authority told Bloomberg Opinion columnist Javier Blas earlier this month: “In conclusion, Denmark cannot prevent oil tankers from passing from the Baltic Sea to the high seas.” 

Analysts believe that there could be a compromise or some sort of solution to this situation because it’s estimated that around 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of Russian crude passes through the Danish straits from Russia’s Baltic Sea ports en route to the Atlantic.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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  • Thomas Thomas on September 26 2022 said:
    On Google maps, it appears the Great Belt waterway is completely within Denmark's borders. Why does Denmark say it cannot prevent ships' passage through its territory?

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