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Physical Oceanography Unit participates in an
Oil Recovery Response Exercise at Sea

On the 21st October 2008 the Physical Oceanography Unit (PO-Unit) of the University of Malta participated in an oil recovery response exercise at sea conducted off the Valletta coast. The event was a joint effort by the Malta Maritime Authority (MMA) and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).  

The Malta MEDSLIK oil spill model run by the PO-Unit was used to simulate the drift of the oil in real time and optimise the response by the oil combating team. This model is capable of predicting the fate and evolution of an oil slick in the Malta Channel and the approaches to the Maltese Islands, and is able to anticipate the likely impacts on the coast for early warning and mitigation. It predicts the expected state of the oil when it arrives at a given location, that is how much will have evaporated, the degree of emulsification of the remainder, how much will be dispersed as fine droplets through the water column, where the oil spill will most likely move to, how soon it will get there and which resources are threatened by it. MEDSLIK also allows simulations with different dispositions and positioning of booms to be run in order to assess the most adequate response.  

The model makes use of the ROSARIO II Forecasting System, which provides operational marine forecasts of sea surface temperature, currents and the wind field. This is also prepared operationally by the PO-Unit.  The 3-hours averaged fields produced by such forecasts are published daily on a dedicated website.

Research and development of the oil spill modelling system was done by Dr. Aldo Drago in collaboration with a Cypriot expert, Prof Robin Lardner. The activity was mainly conducted within the ambit of an EU funded project, MAPRES-Marine Pollution Monitoring and Mitigation by Remote Sensing.

The exercise simulated the detection of a 500 x 300m unattached slick of heavy oil off Valletta. Vessels that form part of EMSA’s network of pollution response vessels stationed in ports around the European coast, as well as other local craft, were deployed. The M/T Santa Maria and M/T Mistra Bay which are based in Malta and the Aktea OSRV based in Piraeus (Greece) were used. Vessels arriving on the scene started deploying booms and skimming equipment for the recovery of the oil slick. During such a drill state of the art OPR (Oil Pollution Response) equipment that can recover and store over 7,000 cubic meters of oil, were deployed.

The oil spill was simulated with release at 35°55.5’N and 14°35.5’E. The accompanying animation shows how the slick evolved in time under the persisting metocean conditions. In this particular case the slick continued to drift in a North-westerly direction without impacting the coast. This is of course not always the case and as it is known, the Maltese Islands are in a very critical position to hazards from oil pollution.

For more information click here.

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