Simulators for improving Cross-Border Oil Spill Response in Extreme Conditions
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SIMREC project aims at mitigating the risks oil-spills pose on the environment of the Gulf of Finland by fostering cooperation between Finnish experts jointly developing a new generation of training simulations. By combining the know-how and expertise of authorities as well as research institutions, the project’s objective is to develop tailored training programs and optimize the preparedness of response teams.

The centerpiece of SIMREC is the development of an innovative and cost-efficient simulation environment training that capacitates response teams to maximize the efficiency of their operations. These simulations will be elaborated based on a set of scenarios reflecting potential oil-spills. Scenarios will consider data and predictions on maritime traffic as well as data on the impact of extreme weather and sea conditions on certain areas. Based on this data, hot spots for accidents can be located and all information converted into scenarios that are used for simulation training.

In order to guarantee the success of joint simulation trainings, it is crucial to secure the connectivity of maritime simulators. The Finnish authorities can develop joint response operations for large-scale oil incidents in the most cost-effective and resource efficient way. Integral parts of this development process are personnel training and investments in network infrastructure.

In order to guarantee the success of simulation systems, a well elaborated training model for oil-spill response simulations is essential. Therefore, one of the main tasks of SIMREC is to compile a training model for response authorities that comprises both practical simulation trainings and lectures on the topic. With technical expertise and practical know-how, a unique training environment that offers the opportunity to train a variety of controllable scenarios in a realistic, cost-efficient and risk-free way will be developed.

A fundamental pillar of a successful oil-spill response operation is well-considered, responsible and efficient decision-making. In order to optimize operations, SIMREC aims to elaborate protocols and tools that facilitate persons responsible to enhance their decision-making and communication. Existing patterns of communication and decision-making will be analyzed and converted into a roadmap providing recommendations for best practices.

Another fundamental task of operation optimizing is the analysis of the current preparedness level of the different actors. All factors impacting preparedness, such as lack of infrastructure in operational situations, lack of availability of recovery response vessels ships, changes in maritime transport chains or environmental changes, need to be assessed to bring preparedness to the highest level and ensure the best possible oil-spill reaction operation.


The project is co-funded by European Union. The total budget for the project is EUR 1 467 266.

Project partners

SIMREC brochure ENG


Research article: new toolkit helps to develop disaster preparedness training

Researchers of the University of Helsinki, Aalto University, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Science, and Kotka Maritime Research Association have published a scientific article presenting a new science-based toolkit for organisers of environmental disaster response trainings. The article is published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction and is one of the outputs from the Merikotka-driven project SIMREC, co-funded by the European Union.

The diversity and frequency of major environmental disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires are growing globally. Major oil and other chemical accidents form one type of environmental disasters as well. Typical for the disaster management operations is that they call for effective collaborative response activities across organisational, sectoral and, in many cases also national borders. However, different operational systems, cultures, and norms of the participating agencies may hamper the collaboration. Multi-agent disaster response simulations help creating shared understanding of how the collaborative response activities should be implemented and thereby improve preparedness and resilience of communities.

In the article, the researchers pay specific attention to shared situational awareness among the response actors as a key to successful cooperative disaster management. They suggest a novel protocol for analysing the formation of such joint awareness during the response exercises.

The suggested protocol consists of thematic series of analytical questions and practical indicators to be monitored during the response exercises. It provides the training organisers a structured framework for identifying critical issues to be practiced with a particular team, or to be developed in terms of a certain exercise. This supports the planning of optimal disaster response trainings in the future.


Written by: Annukka Lehikoinen
Photo by: Matt Hardy on Unsplash

The SIMREC seminar brought together experts in oil spill response and maritime simulators

The two-day conference brought together experts and researchers of oil spill response and maritime simulator training from the Baltic Sea countries. During the event, simulator-based oil spill response exercises and the opportunities they could offer for improving both national and international preparedness were elaborated.


The international conference organized in Kotka 22.–23.11. examined the results of the SIMREC project (Simulator for Improving Cross-Border Oil Spill Response in Extreme Conditions) and created an overview of future cooperation opportunities. The conference was opened by Research Director Ville Henttu from South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (Xamk). Henttu brought up the topicality of the project in the current security situation of the Baltic Sea and saw good opportunities for closer international cooperation based on the results. He also estimated that even though increasingly moving away from fossil fuels, the society will not be able to get rid of oil and its transportation in the very near future, thus the project’s results and development work will be relevant for a long time to come.


Ville Henttu opened the SIMREC seminar held at Maritime Centre Vellamo. Photo: Justiina Halonen.


Towards better preparedness with training, research and international cooperation

Pollution Response Expert Heli Haapasaari from the Finnish Border Guard served as a keynote speaker and commentator of the conference. In her opening speech, Haapasaari described the current status and future development targets of Finland’s oil spill response preparedness. As areas to be developed, she brought up the information needs related to new, greener fuels: their behavior in the sea, collectability and the necessary oil recovery equipment. According to Haapasaari, more attention should also be paid to oil spill response capabilities in challenging environmental conditions.

Haapasaari emphasized the importance of international cooperation in the prevention of oil spills in the Baltic Sea, reminding that it is not realistic to expect any state alone to maintain the level of preparedness that would be required to manage the currently plausible worst-case spill scenario. On the other hand, when planning common preparedness, it is necessary to consider the special conditions of the northern Baltic Sea: the vast majority of oil spill response vessels in the region are such that they cannot operate in ice and thus cannot be relied on in the winter conditions of the northernmost sea areas.

Haapasaari highlighted the importance of oil spill response rehearsals: in terms of oil spill preparedness, training is the only way to strengthen the skills needed, because – fortunately – leakages are so rare that the experience gained through the real-life operations is very limited. Exercises are organized under several umbrellas, for example under Helcom and Copenhagen agreements, and based on bilateral agreements between states. However, resources are limited and Haapasaari saw the need for additional exercises and various research and development projects as significant.


Maritime simulators as additional resources for oil spill response training

In their talks, SIMREC researchers and experts presented the results obtained in the project and the developed solutions for utilizing simulators in oil spill response training. The bridge simulators, jointly owned by Xamk and Ekami vocational school, with their oil spill management and ice navigation functionalities have provided the project with a development and testing environment. The joint report of the SIMREC consortium was also announced at the seminar. The report compiles the main results of the project into a road map of eight recommendations to support the design and organization of effective simulator-based oil spill response training.

Research Director Annukka Lehikoinen from the Kotka Maritime Research Centre (Merikotka) emphasized in her talk how even a small oil spill can have irreversible effects on the sensitive ecosystem of the Baltic Sea. As long as oil is transported and ships use it as fuel, the risk of oil accidents exists. Whether the oil can be recovered at sea or whether it drifts to the shores has a huge impact on the harm and costs resulting from the accident. For this reason, maintaining and developing oil spill response readiness is highly important.

Researcher Ossi Tonteri from the Finnish Environmental Institute (SYKE) had investigated the oil spill response readiness of the Baltic Sea states through a literature review and presented the results of the RETOS™ survey of the Baltic Sea states. It seems there is room for improvement specifically in terms of response training activities in all the analyzed countries. Tonteri suggested that maritime simulators with oil spill response elements could provide a cost-effective option to increase the training activity.

Simulator training is indeed an effective tool for developing oil spill response competency, but it requires the organizers carefully define the target group -specific learning objectives and create plausible exercise scenarios relevant to these objectives. Senior Maritime Lecturer Antti Lanki from Xamk presented the operating model used in the SIMREC project for planning simulator-based exercises. The operating model has been under development at Xamk since 2016. The model is based on a training needs survey and its functionality has been tested in national exercises. Now, in the SIMREC project, the protocol was internationalized.

To develop realistic training scenarios, the SIMREC project used advanced risk modeling technology. Based on a probability calculus using vessel traffic data, a collision involving an oil tanker could be expected to occur in the Gulf of Finland area approximately every 13 years, said Post-doctoral Researcher Liangliang Lu from Aalto University. With the help of the risk analysis model, Lu was also able to show the areas of the highest risk of ship collision-induced oil accidents in the Gulf of Finland sea area and could estimate the most likely leak volumes. This information was utilized in the scenario planning of the simulator exercises organized in the SIMREC project.

Exercises should be systematically observed to evaluate their functionality and, on the other hand, also analyze the performance of the learners. By actively utilizing this information even better exercises can be developed and the additional training needs identified, which enables the development of customized long-term training programs for different groups of operators. Post-doctoral Researcher Mirka Laurila-Pant from the University of Helsinki told the seminar audience about the significance of shared situational awareness in successful crisis management operations and presented a protocol developed in the SIMREC project for observing and analysing its formation during various rehearsals.


Watch a 13-minute film on the project results and an exercise organised in May 2022:

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Future prospects for international cooperation

Unit Leader Robert Grundmann from Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services (Fraunhofer CML) told how the European Maritime Simulator Network (EMSN) was established ten years ago and how the activities and opportunities have developed and expanded since then. With the EMSN connection, maritime simulator centers operating in different countries, nowadays even on different continents, can carry out joint exercises in a shared virtual environment. The EMSN connection also served as a channel for the SIMREC exercises. Grundmann also introduced new opportunities for interaction in simulator environment provided by the different types of virtual reality.

The elaboration of cooperation opportunities between simulator centers in the Baltic Sea region in the context of oil spill response was continued with an expert panel involving Grundmann and Lanki, accompanied by Jarmo Kõster, director of the simulator center in the Estonian Maritime Academy under Tallinn University of Technology, and Johanna Salokannel, project manager representing Novia University of Applied Sciences and the Aboa Mare simulator center. The audience and Heli Haapasaari also commented on the discussion.

As a result of the discussion, it can be summed up a number of technical investments would still be needed to organise joint oil spill management exercises by the participating simulator centers, as the simulator center in Kotka is the most advanced in terms of the special functionalities required for such training. On the other hand, it was noted that there are a number of other elements in the spill response management operations that could be practiced using the strengths of each simulator center and educational institution. Such could be, for example, simulations related to multicultural communication or the coordination of oil spill operations. The simulations could also help in designing optimal international field rehearsals, such as the annual Balex Delta exercise.


In the panel discussion, maritime simulation experts (starting from right) Johanna Salokannel (Novia), Jarmo Kõster (Estonian Maritime Academy), Antti Lanki (Xamk) and Robert Grundmann (Fraunhofer CML) with the moderator Annukka Lehikoinen (Merikotka). Photo: Justiina Halonen.


Real-life demonstrations

On the second day of the seminar, Antti Lanki presented the Xamk-Ekami simulator center to the seminar audience and demonstrated a boom deployment and towing exercise in a simulator environment. The center’s bridge simulators simulate relatively realistically the experience of operating oil spill response vessels in varying conditions at sea. In the simulation environment, the vessels can work together, interacting with each other. The in-water behavior of oil and oil booms under different wind conditions and wave heights are represented logically, too. Combined with the real-life communications technology and other operational tools to support the creation of shared situational awareness, bridge simulators appear to provide an effective environment for experimenting and practicing various oil spill response scenarios and tasks.

After a joint lunch, the seminar guests were transported to Finland’s only oil spill response test basin, operated by Xamk. The basin is a former wastewater aeration basin, provided for Xamk’s R&D use by Kymen Vesi Ltd. Facilities have been built to study how different oil types behave in water and can be collected using different collection devices and methods. Research Manager Justiina Halonen together with Project Manager Antero Myrén and R&D Expert Manu Kettunen carried out an oil recovery demonstration to illustrate the properties of marine diesel oil affecting the performance of the oil recovery skimmers. The guests were also provided demonstrations on how new types of fuels behave when spilled on water.


Demonstrations of oil spill behaviour at Xamk’s oil spill response test basin. Photos: Annukka Lehikoinen.


Future plans

As a result of the two-day seminar, it was concluded that it is desirable to maintain the established network of experts and continue the joint development of the initiated ideas.  The results of the SIMREC project were seen to be relevant and important even up to the Helcom level. The seminar created an excellent basis for the planning of new joint projects, as manifold needs and opportunities for cooperation and joint development were identified.


Written by Justiina Halonen ja Annukka Lehikoinen. (Translated from a Finnish original version)

Halonen works as a research manager at South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences. Lehikoinen is the research director of the Kotka Maritime Research Centre (Merikotka).

A road map for designing simulator-based oil spill response trainings published

The fourth report in the Kotka Maritime Research Centre publication series is out! Researchers and experts of the SIMREC project have today published a joint report titled as Designing effective simulator-based oil spill response trainings for improved performance, preparedness, and societal resilience. Based on the work conducted and lessons learned during the three-year project, the report provides information, tools and recommendations to support the design and construction of effective simulator-based oil spill response trainings for various teams.

If a major oil spill materializes on the Baltic Sea, it is of utmost importance that different ac­tors can, both nationally and internationally, join their forces and react fast and effectively to minimize its negative impacts to people and environment. The successful implementation of such complex multi-organizational processes under heavy time pressure is based on skilled and experienced operative teams. The development of such teams requires frequent joint exercises and training.

The report states that today’s bridge simulators can provide an effective, cost-effective, and safe envi­ronment for testing and practising various joint tasks related to oil spill management. Applied complementarily to authentic on-board exercises with real vessels, the authors suggest simulator-based training programmes bear strong potential for improving the oil spill response readiness of the Baltic Sea countries, thus also developing societal resilience against oil accidents.

The report is a joint effort of the researchers and experts from the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (Xamk), University of Helsinki, Aalto University, and Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). It is edited by Merikotka’s research director Annukka Lehikoinen. Project SIMREC has been led by Kotka Maritime Research Association and co-funded by the European Union together with the participating organizations.

Access the report by clicking the LINK.


Written by: Annukka Lehikoinen

SEMINAR: Simulator exercises for oil spill response and preparedness

Welcome to the final seminar of SIMREC -project

Simulator exercises for oil spill response and preparedness

Kotka, Maritime Centre Vellamo (Tornatorintie 99)
Tue 22 – Wed 23 November 2022

The aim of the SIMREC project has been to produce new cost-effective simulator exercises for oil spill response which are based on new risk scenarios. The simulator exercises are cost-effective and enables safe training even in extreme conditions. During the exercises decision-making process and communication between actors has been examined.

Seminar will be held in English.

TUESDAY 22.11.2022 at 13-17

Key Note Speakers
Heli Haapasaari, Finnish Border Guard
Robert Grundmann, Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services

SIMREC project researchers
Annukka Lehikoinen, Kotka Maritime Research Centre
Liangliang Lu, Aalto University
Antti Lanki, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences
Mirka Laurila-Pant, University of Helsinki
Ossi Tonteri, Finnish Environment Institute 

Robert Grundmann, Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services
Antti Lanki, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences
Johanna Salokannel, Yrkeshögskolan Novia
Kadi Kasepõld, Tallinn University of Technology 

WEDNESDAY 23.11.2022 at 10-14

Visit to the Simulator Center and to Oil Spill Test Basin. 

Upload seminar program (pdf)

Assessing and managing the risks of oil accidents – Doctoral dissertation

Liangliang Lu, a member of the Kotka Maritime Research Centre’s research community, defended his doctoral dissertation on 18 June 2021 at Aalto University in the field of marine technology. The opponent was Professor Zaili Yang from Liverpool John Moores University.

During his thesis work, Lu has developed methods for assessing and managing the risks of oil accidents in challenging icy conditions, the case study area being the northern Baltic Sea.

As the annual ice-covered period shortens, new shipping lanes will open-up in the Arctic and subarctic seas. When shipping in these challenging conditions increases, the likelihood of accidents increases. The low-biodiversity northern ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to various disturbances and the oil spill could have more devastating consequences in these areas than average. Oil spill response in icy conditions is also highly challenging and its success uncertain.

Lianliang Lu’s thesis focuses specifically on improving the effectiveness of oil spill response in ice conditions. It starts by developing a holistic system model that describes a chain of events from a ship collision to the amount of oil leaking from a tanker, oil drifting in the ocean, and eventually oil spill response in ice conditions.

“In order to propose effective risk management measures, we must first understand the risk-generating system,” says Lu.

“Systems modeling helps to identify the most critical factors affecting the effectiveness of oil spill response. On this basis, it is possible to start planning optimal risk management measures – that is, measures to improve oil spill response,” he states.

The thesis then identifies the operability of an oil spill response vessel in ice as one of the most critical factors influencing the success of oil spill response. On this basis, Lu has developed a new type of operability index based on transit modelling in dynamic ice, to be used as a tool during oil spill response operations. The index is calculated for each response vessel and is intended to assist in the planning and execution of a spill response operation under the environmental and ice conditions prevailing at the time of the accident.

Lianliang Lu’s thesis have been partly conducted as part of the SIMREC -project.

The thesis consists of five scientific articles and a summary titled as ”Risk management of ship-source oil spill in ice conditions in the Northern Baltic Sea”. The summary can be downloaded from the Aaltodoc publication archive.


Written by: Annukka Lehikoinen

Oil Spill Response in the Northern Baltic and Arctic Areas-Twitter conference 14.1.2021

Three EU funded Research projects, all developing countermeasures against oil pollution, will have the joint Twitter conference 14th January 2021, at 10:00 am – 2.00 pm (UCT+2).

ACBR (Arctic Coast Bioremediation) will show some of the latest results how to use biotechnology for comprehensive remediation of oil-contaminated marine coastal areas in the Arctic.

SIMREC (Simulators for improving Cross-Border Oil Spill Response in Extreme Conditions) will highlight effort s to use simulators as novel platforms for training and research to develop joint procedures for the cross the border co-operation in the Eastern part of the Gulf of Finland

OILSPILL (Enhancing oil spill response capability in the Baltic Sea Region) will focus on the oil spill response capability on the Baltic Sea region.

Join us in January: #BAOIL21


Implementation time

1.9.2019 - 30.11.2022