In the wake of the sinking of the Flinterstar authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands activated plans to respond to any oiled wildlife. Sea Alarm assisted wildlife responders and authorities in both countries for several weeks following the incident.
On 6 October, 2015, the Dutch cargo ship Flinterstar collided with the tanker Al Oraiq just eight kilometers off the Belgian coast, potentially putting marine and coastal wildlife in both Belgium and the Netherlands at risk. The Al Oraiq made it into port but the Flinterstar, with 125 tonnes of diesel and 427 tonnes of fuel oil on board, sank spreading oil into the North Sea for several kilometers to the north but not toward the shore.
In Belgium the North Sea Emergency Plan was activated, first and foremost to rescue the Flinterstar crew, which was successful, but also to deal with oil in the marine environment. The Provincial Emergency Plan scaled up to prevent and mitigate effects of oil on the Belgium coast. As an integrated part of these plans the authorities also activated the Oiled Bird Intervention Plan, which brought together the key actors of the Bird Crisis Team on the following morning. Sea Alarm also attended this meeting as coordinator of international wildlife response and cooperation.
At the same time Sea Alarm was contacted by Rijkswaterstaat, the leading authority in the Netherlands, with a request to monitor the situation and help assess the potential impacts on birds in the Dutch part of the North Sea. Sea Alarm facilitated a teleconference between key parties for that assessment, including Rijkswaterstaat, to start the exchange of information between them.
In the weeks that followed, Sea Alarm assisted authorities and key wildlife experts on both sides of the border with maintaining a common operating picture via email and telephone calls. On a daily basis, updates from aerial surveillances, reports of leaking oil, bird observations on beaches, and animals admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centres in both countries were shared.
Although a few hundreds gulls were observed on beaches with oil stains, all were still flighted and unable to be caught. Weather conditions elsewhere in the North Sea, which caused a delay in migration into the southern North Sea, meant that there were not large numbers of wintering seabirds in the area. Had the migration occurred before the spill the situation would likely have been much worse.
On October 28 the oil removal from the Flinterstar wreck was completed, which was when the operational systems were strongly scaled down on both sides of the border. The wreck salvage is scheduled for March/April 2016. Until that time there is a slight risk of oil still coming out of the wreck during storms, and possible seabird impacts, as the wintering population is now in the area.
The cross border cooperation and responsible information sharing was highly appreciated by all parties involved, and has created a solid basis of goodwill and mutual trust within the authority-NGO partnerships in both countries.