Management of environmental impacts

The Baltic Sea is one of the world’s most densely operated marine areas.  The locations of the harbours in Helsinki pose their own challenges, being close to the centre of the Finnish capital city. The Port of Helsinki is taking responsibility for minimising the harmful environmental impacts of port and maritime operations.


Noise in the harbours is caused by the likes of ships’ main engines when leaving and arriving in the harbours. Noise is also caused by the loading and unloading of cargo, ships’ ventilation systems, and use of auxiliary engines when the vessel is generating electricity for its own use while moored.  Industrial machines and vehicles also cause noise as they move around the harbours.

Noise levels in the harbours are monitored through noise assessments, which examine the noise emissions of port operations in various situations and compare these noise values to the values specified in the harbours’ environmental permits. Noise caused by port operations must not exceed 55 dB during the day or 50 dB at night, when measured from the yards or outdoor areas of residential buildings. The Port of Helsinki commissions new noise assessments, along with noise modelling and measurements, every three or four years. Additionally, we work in close cooperation with city planning bodies in matters such as city planning.

Noise prevention is particularly important to the Port of Helsinki, as our passenger harbours are located in the middle of a densely populated capital city.

The city structure is constantly expanding, bringing residential areas and workplaces ever closer to the harbours. Additionally, the holiday accommodation and nature reserves located in close proximity to Vuosaari cargo harbour require particular attention in port operations.

When a moored vessel is connected to shore electricity, the need to use auxiliary engines is reduced.

We want to be good neighbours to city residents, so we minimise noise disturbances as much as possible and work in close cooperation with the city planning bodies of the City of Helsinki, for example. In the construction of Vuosaari Harbour, special consideration was given to noise. A concrete noise barrier measuring almost a kilometre was built along the north-east edge of the harbour.

Many vessels also use their own sound attenuators. Additionally, the Port of Helsinki offers shore power for vessels at many of its quays. This means that vessels do not need to use their auxiliary engines to generate electricity whilst moored, leading to lower decibel levels. Furthermore, comprehensive technical guidance is used to address noise disturbances, focusing on matters such as reducing the rattling of ramps.

Air emissions

Nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and greenhouse gases are the key air emissions from port operations and vessel traffic. Nitrogen oxides cause eutrophication of the Baltic Sea, whilst sulfur oxides acidify waterways. Furthermore, particulate matter binds to sulfur, posing a particular threat to human health.

Sulfur and particulate emissions from ship traffic have fallen noticeably thanks to the Sulphur Directive, which came into force in 2010.

One of the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority’s (HSY) movable air quality monitoring stations is located somewhere within the Port of Helsinki area every other year. The measurements are primarily used to monitor the emissions of ships, vehicles and industrial machines; energy generation; and transboundary pollution. The air emissions of the Port of Helsinki are relatively small, compared to other sources.

Further information about the monitoring stations and the monitoring of air quality in Helsinki.

The sulfur emissions of vessel traffic have fallen noticeably since stricter regulations for the Sulphur Emission Control Areas, including the Baltic Sea, came into force under the Sulphur Directive in 2010. Following a tightening of regulations, since the start of 2015 vessels’ sulfur emissions have been limited to 0.1% throughout the Baltic Sea. In practice this acts as a regulation on the sulfur content of fuels. An alternative to low-sulfur fuels is the use of exhaust gas scrubbers or alternative fuels, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) or biofuels.

The shore power system used by Viking Line at the Katajanokka quays also reduces emissions into the air. When a moored vessel is connected to shore electricity, the need to use auxiliary engines is reduced.

To reduce the odours released through the processing of waste waters, passenger vessels preprocess their waste waters before discharging them at the harbour. Additionally, a waste water preprocessing facility has been constructed at Vuosaari Harbour for this purpose.

Ship-generated waste

Vessels can discharge their waste waters directly into the sewage system for no additional charge at all Port of Helsinki quays.

The Port of Helsinki’s price incentive is working: in 2016 almost 90% of international cruise ships discharged their waste water

Ship-generated waste legislation dictates that ships must discharge their waste at harbours. The Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi may grant an exemption from the mandatory discharging of waste if the ship is engaging in regular service and it has a waste management agreement directly with a waste management company. Vessels in regular service in Helsinki operate in this way, so the Port of Helsinki Ltd provides waste management services primarily for international cruise ships and some cargo vessels.

Ship-generated waste is divided into solid waste, oily waste and waste water. Additionally, many vessels sort their solid waste into different waste types, which can be recycled at the harbour.

An increasing number of vessels are discharging their waste water to be processed on shore. In 2016 nearly 90% of international cruise ships discharged waste water at the Port of Helsinki’s quays.

From 1 June 2019 a ban on new ships discharging sewage into the Baltic Sea special area will come into force. For current cruise ships the deadline is 1 June 2021 and ships sailing straight to Saint Petersburg will have a two-year transition period until 1 June 2023.

Each of the Port of Helsinki’s quays is equipped to allow for direct discharge of waste water into the sewer network, from where it is transported directly to HSY for processing. A separate charge is not levied for discharging waste waters.

A range of incentives are commonly used in the Baltic Sea area to encourage discharge of wastes at harbours. The Port of Helsinki’s vessel waste management charges are based on the size of the vessel, rather than on whether the vessel is discharging waste at the harbour or not. The Port of Helsinki does not charge separately for discharging of waste water, and in 2016 we also implemented a new price incentive: a 20% discount on solid and oily waste charges if waste water is also discharged at the harbour.

The Port of Helsinki is actively developing its waste management operations. The cruise ships visiting the harbour in 2014 and 2015 were served by waste advisers from the waste management companies. The focus of this work has been the West Harbour, but the intention is to expand this work to the South Terminal too. We are also surveying the further utilisation opportunities for suitable solid waste types, for example.

All Port of Helsinki harbours have their own waste management plans

Waste handling instructions

Impacts on waterways

The Port’s impacts on the surrounding marine area and its fishing industry have been monitored for a number of years. Regular inspections focused on the marine area, in accordance with the currently valid environmental permits, are carried out at two inspection sites in front of Vuosaari. In light of the results attained, the impacts of the Port of Helsinki on the area’s fishing industry, for example, are quite minor.

The impact on waterways from construction related to the Port of Helsinki’s different development projects is also limited and monitored. Construction involving waterways requires water permits, which define factors such as:

  • systematic measurements,
  • sampling and e.g. flow and turbidity modelling,
  • environmental charges,
  • necessary reports,
  • any inspections of the waterways, including inspections after construction has concluded.

More information about the environmental matters associated with maritime operations can be found on the website of the Finnish Transport Safety Agency, Trafi.