It is 2 September 2021.
You think you’ve scrolled through all the online news and read complete the current affairs, when suddenly a red flashing notification comes up. A large slick, dark in colour, was detected in the Grand Harbour at 08:30am. It seems that a patch of oil is moving towards Senglea Point.
Transport Malta is coordinating the mitigation. The Civil Protection were called on site to launch drones and quantify the extent of the spill through aerial surveillance. They will later help with the deployment of booms. The Environmental Resource Authority (ERA) was also notified to investigate, and the Physical Oceanography Research Group from the University of Malta were immediately contacted to intervene providing real-time metocean conditions and predicting the evolution of the spill through their numerical models.
This will help to identify where the spill will go, and when it will arrive. Task Team members from each institution gathered at the Emergency Control Room of Transport Malta to coordinate action and provide a timely response to the incident.
Fortunately, this is fake news.
The detected spill is made up of 50 kg of popcorn that were released into the sea for simulation and training purposes. The exercise was organised as part of the CALYPSO South project to help bring all local stakeholders teaming their efforts efficiently and testing equipment that was procured through the project. All entities did not know when or where the exercise will take place, and the incident was tackled as a real case scenario.
The main goal of the CALYPSO South project is to address challenges concerning safer marine transportation, and the protection of human lives at sea, whilst safeguarding marine and coastal resources from irreversible damages. The project is partially funded by the Interreg V-A Italia-Malta 2014-2020 programme, and led by Prof. Aldo Drago who coordinates the Physical Oceanography Research Group.
The main project deliverables include the extension of the existing HF radar network coverage to the western part of the Malta-Sicily Channel and the southern part of the Maltese archipelago, development of new monitoring and forecasting tools, and delivery of tailored operational downstream services to assist national entities in their maritime security, rescue and emergency response commitments.
The exercise served to showcase how the University of Malta, through its Physical Oceanography Research Group, is linked to national marine responsible entities, providing essential operational data and forecasting services to aid their daily activities and commitments to the security, surveillance and monitoring of our coastal waters.
During the oil spill exercise, Dr Adam Gauci provided frequent updates of the real-time meteo and marine conditions measured by the national observing system maintained by the Physical Oceanography Research Group. He also helped to track and monitor the trajectory of the spill by satellite tracked drifters that were deployed at sea within the spill.
Dr Anthony Galea provided updates from a numerical model that forecasted the sea surface conditions as they were expected to evolve in the next few hours. Ms Audrey Zammit was in charge to collate all the information together, and to visually present this as a bulletin to all stakeholders involved. Everybody with a task to accomplish as a team enabling the Physical Oceanography Research Group to intervene where and when it is needed in such incidents.