Operational plans and procedures for maritime search and rescue in HNS incidents

March 2016 -
April 2019


Policy area:
3. Transport 3.3 Maritime safety


The Interreg project ChemSAR provided national rescue authorities and services around the Baltic Sea with operational plans and common procedures to harmonise maritime search and rescue (SAR) operations in incidents involving hazardous and noxious substances (HNS), and by this to save more lives.

The Challenge

Lack of common procedures 

There are about 2,000 commercial vessels operating in the Baltic Sea at any given minute and tens millions of tons of chemicals transported along. So far, there have been 100-200 incidents with commercial vessels reported annually. Due to an increasing amount of traffic in the Baltic Sea, traffic intersections and difficult waters, the probability of a largescale maritime incident remains high.

Incidents are transnational by nature

No country around the Baltic Sea has sufficient resources to tackle incidents involving hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) on its own, hence almost any maritime chemical incident is international by nature. However, there are no standardised procedures that national rescue authorities and rescue services could use in case of maritime HNS incidents to harmonise joint search and rescue (SAR) operations. 


New procedures in place

The ChemSAR partners have jointly developed the first in the Baltic Sea region Standard Operational Procedures (SOP) for search and rescue (SAR) operations applicable to hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) incidents. The procedures were tested in table top exercises and simulations, and piloted in a live rescue exercise held on Estonian waters in September 2018 with over 100 role players, evaluators, and observers from eight countries. The procedures enable rescue maritime authorities and services to analyse capacities and capabilities, procedures and operational models in countries around the Baltic Sea, and to respond to HNS incidents in a more coordinated manner. The ready-made checklists additionally help harmonise e.g. assessing an incident, determining a restriction area, evaluating or decontaminating procedures.

Step by step in use

The ChemSAR operational plans and procedures are now compiled in a Handbook for Maritime SAR in HNS Incidents. The Finnish Border Guard, which coordinates rescue operations in Finland, uses the handbook in practice. The organisation also brought it up to the discussion at the HELCOM Response Working Group. The handbook is a guiding tool for rescue organisations in Sweden and Estonia too, including the Joint Response Coordination Centre Tallinn and Estonian Rescue Board. It is a reference document for rescue operations for the Lithuanian Armed Forces.

Towards standardisation

In most countries around the Baltic Sea, responsibility for dealing with HNS incidents is shared among several organisations. For this reason, it is a lengthy process until all organisations in all countries fully coordinate their operations. ChemSAR eLearning tool and chemical databank contribute to assimilating the guidelines into national procedures faster.

Further dissemination work of ChemSAR achievements is continued by the ResQU2 platform. The platform aims at improving preparedness of rescue authorities and services around the Baltic Sea to cope with incidents at sea and in ports, also those with hazardous and noxious substances.

ChemSAR matters

The Interreg project ChemSAR used EUR 1.89 million from the European Union to develop common operational plans and procedures for search and rescue operations in incidents involving hazardous and noxious substances. It offers ready-made tools for rescue authorities and services around the Baltic Sea to harmonise rescue operations, and in this way to save more lives and reduce the harm to the environment at the same time.

Now, the ChemSAR core partners contribute to the ResQU2 project platform that further develops the expertise of national authorities and rescue services to cope with accidents in the Baltic Sea and in ports, including those involving hazardous substances.

Project Stories


€ 2.48
€ 1.89
Eni + Russia
€ 0.00
€ 0.00



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Project manager

University of Turku

Kirsi Laitio

+358 407 799 483

Legal representative

University of Turku

Tommi Inkinen

+358 50 313 0689

Financial manager

University of Turku

Mirja Jyrkinen

+358 50 351 1824

Communication manager

University of Turku

Mariikka Whiteman

+358 407 799 490