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Baltic Transport Journal 2010 : BSAG – tackles the common problems of the Baltic Sea with a fresh new approach

By Dr. Anna Kotsalo-Mustonen and Dr. Mathias Bergman
BSAG and the Baltic Sea
Throughout history, the Baltic Sea has been an essential part of the lives of the peoples living at its shores. Each time and generation has had its own perceptions of the sea, based on a combination of personal knowledge, experiences and relationship to it. However, we are used to having the sea at hand and ready to serve us for whatever purpose we have: Trade, communication, warfare, transport, fishing, leisure, beauty, poetic or musical inspiration. We have taken this for granted and neglected how our activities have dramatically affected the sea during the past 100 years.
We have developed processes and technology that are potentially very dangerous for the marine environment and we might now be facing the death of the Baltic Sea if we do not change course and act now. However, it is comforting to notice that most inhabitants of the Baltic Sea states value the sea and perceive it worth saving.
There is massive data confirming the bad ecological state of the sea and there are lots of ideas on how to tackle the problems and how to prevent further damage. However, most ideas have not been implemented in practice.
As a reaction to these problems, the ministers of all the nine Baltic Sea States as members of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) signed in 2007 a broad document, the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP). It lists all major threats to our sea and the required measures to be taken in order to restore it and so provides a roadmap on how to save the sea. According to the BSAP, all states shall produce their own National Implementation Plan. So far, only Sweden has finalized its plan.
We have reacted, but our pace is too slow. Simply put, the sea cannot wait, and we face the risk of passing the threshold from where there is no turning back.
It has become evident that we need re-thinking to achieve the demanding goals. Current thinking has emphasized and assumed that private ownership and independent control is the only way to ensure that joint property is cared for in responsible manner. It is interesting to note that the 2009 Nobel Prize winner Professor Elinor Ostrom has proved that mutual dependence also can lead to desirable results. An example of such dependence is treating joint property, such as rivers and sea areas, in a sustainable manner. By so doing, all parties that utilize the common resource will gain. The Baltic Sea with nine “owners” is a splendid example of a common resource that should be governed in this way.
In 2007, at the outset of the foundation known as Baltic Sea Action Group (BSAG), it was clear that a new approach is needed. The existing methods to solve the problems of the sea are not enough and are too slow. Due to the urgency and the large variety of problems, a new way of defining problems and problem solution is a must.
The philosophy was that re-thinking or ‘social innovation’ is needed on at least two levels:
First, at the level of individual projects: The traditional way of first planning projects and then collecting funds from the public to implement them one-by-one can be an efficient means to solve local problems and problems that are easy to ‘package’ and that respond to psychological needs of fund donors. However, this approach can never be fast enough to solve all the problems simultaneously needed to save the sea. Also, the interest of the public is unpredictable, as new targets for nurturing guilty conscience emerge constantly.
BSAG’s discovery is, that instead of collecting money and buying implementation, to catalyze a wide variety of concurrent projects by identifying natural incentives of different parties, companies, organizations, public entities, NGOs, to carry out projects that benefit both the Baltic Sea and the implementing party alike. The project parties thus bring in their best knowledge or technology to solve a certain task. The intended outcome of catalyzing win-win situations is that each party uses their own best competence or added value for the benefit of the sea, rather than donating money for the purchase of competences from third parties. By catalyzing projects, we also create a situation in which it is in the interest of these parties to ensure that the projects are completed in time and with high quality standards, as their own interests are in line with the Baltic Sea goals of the projects.
The problems of the Baltic Sea are many, and several direct and indirect competencies are needed to treat the problem-areas related to the eutrophication, maritime risks and emissions, threats imposed by hazardous substances and last but not least the threats to the biodiversity. The competencies in form of products, services and know-how are used directly and indirectly in the solutions to these problems.
We already have proof that our innovative approach works. During 2009 several large projects were initiated based on this re-thinking. By March 2010, some 150 companies, NGOs and public entities from all the nine coastal countries as well as from the U.S., Belarussia, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Norway, have publicly manifested that they will carry out a new project that will directly or indirectly help the Baltic Sea. During only nine months, and with minimal resources, the new innovative approach used by BSAG has generated more new activity than anybody could dream of.
Second, at the societal level, BSAG has introduced a concept that has potential to be the dominant design for saving the sea and other nature values in the future. This social innovation could be described as creating targeted actions by positive interdependencies in a social context. Our initial thoughts on these issues were inspired by the above mentioned research findings by Elinor Ostrom. We continue our efforts to identify existing interdependencies and creating opportunities for new ones. ‘
An example of the latter one is the suggestion by BSAG to the President of the Republic of Finland, Ms Tarja Halonen, and the Prime Minister of Finland, Mr. Matti Vanhanen, to form unique trio for a novel approach. In order to speed up the Baltic Sea work further, and to obtain the required political support for the process, BSAG together with the President and Prime Minister of Finland invited all Heads of State of the other Baltic Sea countries to the Baltic Sea Action Summit (BSAS), on February 10th, 2010.
To further emphasize the public and common nature of our problem, BSAG launched the use of Commitments. These are public documents stating what a certain organization will do to save the sea. Some of these were presented at the Summit, and all of them are publicly available on the web (
By these novelties, BSAG has introduced a more inspiring and productive way to perform complex projects, and has engaged the highest political leadership to support the process of saving our sea.
The work by BSAG continues. The foundation will strengthen cross border cooperation and introduce new players and ways of interacting. The work is closely linked to the global challenges of mankind: climate change and sustainable food production. This work requires an open mind and a fearless attitude.
Example 1 of a BSAG project: AIS+
The Baltic Sea is one of the most heavily used waterways on the planet. Today, at every given moment approx. 2000 ships are at sea, and the number is expected to increase. To ensure safe navigation of all these ships, surveillance and guidance systems must be improved.
A standard tracking system is in use worldwide: the AIS, Automatic Identification System.
AIS is a robust VHF (radio wave)-based system globally mandatory to all ships above 24 m length. At present, AIS uses a very limited set of strictly specified messages. Information exchange beyond the specified messages has to be handled manually by VHF radio. This causes considerable distraction among bridge personnel that should concentrate on navigation. In fact, almost all accidents are caused by human error and many of them by lack of attention and fatigue.
To improve the performance and use of AIS, BSAG has initiated a development project, called AIS+. The scope of the project is to develop a novel application, an open source soft ware, for the AIS system. IBM Finland, VTT Technical Research Center of Finland, Finnish Meteorological Institute and experts from the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communication form the project team.
The aim of the project is to improve the system so that it can automatically receive and send a set of novel messages, Application Specific Messages.
These messages are being approved by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and contain information on weather and ice conditions, local warnings, routes, dangerous cargo etc, and provide means for Vessel Traffic Service stations to direct the traffic safely.
Thus, by using a reliable, simple system already present on board all ships, the project has designed an application that dramatically reduces the risks of navigation failures and collisions. An important aspect of the new application is that it does not require investments by ship owners: The extended function only needs a PC, present on all ships today. The PC is connected to the AIS transponder via its pilot plug.
Moreover, improved AIS communication enables ships to plan their routes and port calls with high accuracy, and this leads to intelligent speed planning, less port slot waiting and lower fuel costs – and lower emissions and a cleaner environment.
At present, the s
econd version of the application is being tested onboard Viking Line´s and Crystal Pool´s ships. By mid-2011 the fully developed application is planned to be offered to the shipping industry.
Example 2 of a BSAG project: Port waste reception
Despite regulations against discharges and waste dumping into the Baltic Sea, thousands of discharges occur every year. After analyses, BSAG concluded that the only way to put an end to this pollution is to introduce and demand adequate waste reception facilities in all major ports.
As their BSAS Commitment, the international consulting company Bain & Co has performed a thorough analysis of the situation in different ports and has produced action plans for improvements.
Some ports with heavy passenger traffic, and thus large volumes of ship generated sewage, have good facilities well used by the ships. Some key ports have not yet put their facilities up to standard. However, both Copenhagen/Malmö port and St Petersburg port are now implementing the required facilities and a fair fee structure, as their BSAS Commitments. Tallinn port is planning how to formulate their Commitment.
As a strong driver of the development, European Cruise Council (ECC) is providing both specifications and know-how into the project, also as their Commitment. In this way, discharges will be eliminated and the sea will be cleaner. As intended by BSAG, the ports will attract more cruise and passenger ships and the port cities can develop tourism substantially.
Thus, we all win – the sea, the people and the industry.

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