Most dangerous shipwrecks in Estonian waters to be threat assessed

Shipwrecks in Estonian waters.
Shipwrecks in Estonian waters. Source: ERR

Ten of the most dangerous shipwrecks in Estonia's maritime area will be assessed for future threats over the next two years. As the wrecks age, fuel spills become more likely.

Shipwrecks from the first and second world wars are quietly leaking in the Baltic Sea and funding from the Nordic Environmental Investment Fund will study the risk of the 10 most worrisome.

A German minesweeper sunk in the Gulf of Narva was recently emptied of fuel by the Police and Border Guard Board after several pollution reports were filed.

Mati Kose, a senior pollution control specialist at the PPA, told ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" it cost between €100,000-150,000 to clean up.

Another wreck under observation is the British cruiser Cassandra which sank west of Saaremaa in 1918 and may still be holding 1,000 tonnes of fuel.

"With a west wind, it is about 50 kilometers from Vilsandi National Park which is a very sensitive sea area. There are very rare seabirds wintering there," said Kose.

Shipwreck in Estonian waters. Picture is illustrative. Source: ETV

The less the pollution spreads, the easier it is to clean up. The hard work really begins when it reaches the beach as it can contaminate birds, mammals and fish.

Further work on the wrecks can be tricky as some may be harboring ammunition and explosives.

"If very dangerous explosives are still there and close to a possible work area, you have to leave the wreck where it is and hope it [the fuel] doesn't come out. And if you have to, be prepared to collect it from the water," Kose said.

Last year, The Times newspaper reported there were approximately 100,000 shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea. In the 20th century, about 500 ships sank in Estonian waters.

In addition to wrecks and sea mines, about 40,000 tonnes of chemical munitions were dumped into the Baltic Sea after the Second World War, Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – also known as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) has found.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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