Source of oil pollution on Hiiumaa, Vormsi beaches still unknown

Mazut pollution found on the shores of the Western Estonian island of Vormsi. May 23, 2022.
Mazut pollution found on the shores of the Western Estonian island of Vormsi. May 23, 2022. Source: Juhan Hepner/ERR

The source of oil pollution on the coastline of two of Estonia's islands first found on Sunday has still yet to be ascertained, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Tuesday.

Authorities were notified Sunday that areas of the east coast of Hiiumaa, Estonia's second-largest island, had been hit by Mazut pollution, thought to have leaked from a long-sunk vessel. Mazut is a type of low-grade fuel oil, in common use during the Soviet era.

Parts of the coastline of nearby Vormsi have also been hit by the spoilage, AK reported.

The Transport Administration (Transpordiamet) told AK that there are no known shipwrecks in the area which were know to have contained Mazut; however, there are numerous sunken vessels in the vicinity in any case, AK reported.

The Estonian Maritime Museum (Meremuuseum), the Estonian Navy (Merevägi) and the transport agency itself all have wreck maps available, AK reported, but the potential area where the offending wreck may be located is quite wide.

Peeter Väling, head of the Transport Administration's hydrography department, said: "I have made a small-scale observation of the area. If we take the zone to the north of Tahkuna (on Hiiumaa's northernmost tip - ed.) and Vormsi, we are looking at about 44 wrecks. The furthest of these lies about 55km from Tahkuna."

This information does not shed all that much light on the situation, however, Väling added, mainly because most of the wrecks would not be of vessels which had ever carried mazut in any case.

"It seems to me that none of these are likely sources of the mazut, because this was not widely used as a marine fuel until the 1950s-1960s, whereas these wrecks are almost all older than that."

Whatever the source, the fuel oil can solidify over time, due mainly to low temperatures on the sea bed. While the mazut found on Hiiumaa and Vormsi has presented mostly as solidified clumps, currents and the wind could have carried the pollution long distances, even under ice, making the origin even harder to ascertain.

AK reported that one notorious shipwreck, that of the Greek-registered cargo ship the Volare, which sank in 1980 under suspicious circumstances in Kaugatoma bay, in the far southern tip of Saaremaa, can be eliminated on the grounds that she lies a long distance from the current pollution zone, plus the fuel she had been carrying was pumped out of the vessel at the time.

Director of the Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet) Rainer Vakra told AK on Monday that the pollution likely originated from a wreck. The board and Hiiumaa mayor Hergo Tasuja (SDE) had already issued a call for volunteers to help with the clean-up process, also on the Monday.

Mazut is a heavy, low quality fuel oil, sometimes used in power plants and similar applications. It was often used to heat housing during the Soviet era, while in the west it is often broken down or blended, to produce diesel.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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