Olli Taipale and the Baltic sea

Olli Taipale is Finnpilot Pilotage Ltd’s Chief Pilot at Archipelago Sea Pilot Station. Photo © Noora Kunttu.
Olli Taipale is Finnpilot Pilotage Ltd’s Chief Pilot at Archipelago Sea Pilot Station. Photo © Noora Kunttu.

The Baltic Sea has had a great impact on my life, and, even today, provides me with my livelihood. Even before I became a pilot, the Baltic Sea held great significance to me. I spent a large part of my seafaring career sailing the Baltic Sea.

Early on in my career, in the early 90s, ship crews still talked about the “big dumpster”, i.e. the sea. We threw thrash overboard without a care. Thankfully, people’s attitudes towards the sea have changed. The sea’s algae status has also improved from days past. I can recall the times when, if the weather was calm, a ship would leave a trail in the sea. Algae blooms are still there, but in my view volumes have decreased. During the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that water in the Southern Bothnian Sea has become clearer.

The work cycle of a pilot consists of a week at work followed by a week off; during the working week, pilotage requests can arrive at any time of the day, which means there really is no typical working day for a pilot. Piloted ships are also different. There are tankers, dry bulk ships, RORO vessels, and so forth. Large and small. People are often surprised by the lively cargo ship traffic along our coastlines. It upsets me somewhat to come across the view that tankers are the only risk faced by the sea. Today, the majority of tankers are double-hulled and governed by strict regulations. In my view, large single-hull dry bulk vessels, which may carry as much fuel as a small tanker carries cargo, pose a far greater risk. Our shallow, enclosed “lake” cannot withstand oil damages. Pilots work around the clock, every day of the year, to prevent accidents. It is highly motivating to work in a field that is so crucial to the protection of the Baltic Sea.

Onboard a ship, the pilot’s role is to be an expert on the regional environment. I’m often asked the question ‘can’t they find their way themselves?’ Often, the answer is no. We need to bear in mind that our rocky coastline is unique in the world. It is also possible that the ship’s crew has never heard of Finland before. In such cases, our narrow fairways can be a major cultural shock, and the expertise of the pilot is very much needed.

Experiencing the four seasons is one of the most rewarding aspects of a pilot’s work. Transportation in the Archipelago Sea in January is quite different compared to July, which for many is the most familiar time of the year in the Baltic Sea. Winter, with its ice and snow, adds a particular flavour to the work. Spring is perhaps the most beautiful of the seasons, with flocks of birds and waterways opening up. In the autumn one often wonders how the change, compared to a few months back, can be so extreme. Rain pounds horizontally, the seas are rough, and the nights pitch black. An autumn storm can be an experience.

It has been great to hear the recent good news on the status of the Baltic Sea. In St. Petersburg, wastewater discharges have been curbed, and major sources of phosphorus have been blocked. We Finns have a tendency to think ‘it’s not us, it’s the others’. In my view, it is important to ensure that we truly have our home base covered. This involves many issues and decisions. Major issues include sufficiently wide protective zones for agriculture, and the appropriate use of fertilizers. But also smaller actions are needed, such as responsible boaters, who empty their septic tanks at disposal points.

I very much hope that the worst is over for the Baltic Sea, and recovery is already underway. For the change to be permanent, we need a lot of hard work and persistent attitudes. It is wonderful that the John Nurminen Foundation has adopted the issue, and is involved in the extremely important effort to save the Baltic Sea.