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Open Spirit Set to Reconvene to Continue Clearing Old Mines

The Sakala, Estonian Navy Sandown class minehunter pictured in 2012
The Sakala, Estonian Navy Sandown class minehunter pictured in 2012 Source: Estonian Navy

Ships and divers from 12 countries will arrive in Tallinn tomorrow for ongoing work to clean up a World War II legacy - mines in the Baltic.

The Open Spirit mine clearance and ordnance disposal exercise dates back to 1997 and was launched by the German navy.

"Over the years, the Estonian navy has taken over as planner and organizer," said Lt. Cmdr. Jüri Saska, commander of the Navy's operations and planning department.

This year, 19 ships from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania, and diver units from the US, Canada, Estonia, Lithuania and the Netherlands will clear Estonian waters from May 14 to 25.

"The Baltic and especially the Gulf of Finland has been very heavily mined during various conflicts," said Saska. "There are very many resources offered to us by our allies for covering large areas, and the allies in turn get good, realistic practice.

The area of operations - chosen based on historical minelaying information and past mine clearance - will be in the Bay of Tallinn, north of Naissaar island, north of Hiiumaa and between Muhu and the mainland. The international divers' base camp will be in Suursadam harbor on Hiiumaa.

With recreational boating and diving on the increase, Saska emphasized the public service aspect.

Estonia itself has three fully modern mine countermeasures ships in the Sandown class, a special team of mine clearance divers, and a mine information centre.

According to various sources, 150,000 naval mines were laid in the Baltic Sea in the world wars, 80,000 of them in the Gulf of Finland.

Kristopher Rikken

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