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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Helsinki Urges Moscow to Use Safer Oil Tankers

HELSINKI, Finland -- Fearing an oil spill in the Baltic Sea -- covered in some of the thickest pack ice in memory -- Finland has urged Russia to stop the use of unsafe tankers and adopt international safety standards.

"The situation is far from satisfactory. Traffic is growing in the region, and the chances of an accident continue to grow," Finnish Transport and Communications Minister Kimmo Sasi said Wednesday.

Sasi spoke as the Minerva Nounou, with 100,000 metric tons of crude on board, passed by the Finnish coast after loading Monday at the Russian oil terminal of Primorsk, some 200 kilometers east of the Finnish capital.

The tanker, flying a Greek flag, is the sister ship of the Stemnitsa that has made two trips to Primorsk this winter, the coldest in 40 years.

With temperatures dipping to minus 40 degrees Celsius, pack ice has been as thick as 80 centimeters, causing a major maritime hazard. Finland has deployed all nine of its icebreakers to keep sea lanes open.

Although both Greek tankers are double-hulled, they are reinforced against ice only at the bows, which makes them vulnerable to crushing from the sides. Russia has designated them safe to operate in icy water.

"The problem is we have different safety standards," Sasi said.

Oil transport has tripled in the region since the mid-1990s, to 60 million tons in 2002, and could double in the next few years.

Fearing the worst, Finland turned to the European Union for help but was told it could do nothing.

Protests to Russia by Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen did not work, and Sasi's counterpart, Transportation Minister Sergei Frank, would only consent to providing a pair of Russian icebreakers each time the tankers load up.

"It was absolutely necessary at this stage, but we didn't get much more understanding than that," Sasi said.