The Estonian Maritime Museum has applied for over half a million euros from the Ministry of Culture to conserve the hulk of a medieval ship unearthed during construction work on Lootsi tänav. The sum needs to be approved by the coalition council.
The medieval hulk, found during construction work of an underground section of a new office building, is among the best preserved and most complete of its kind found in Europe in the last few decades. A plethora of other items was also found near the hull.
The hulk was transported in four pieces to the premises of the Sea Plane Harbor where it has been shielded from the elements and is awaiting proper conservation. Because of its imposing size, work associated with the hulk is very expensive and not something the museum can afford to pay for out of its budget. This prompted Director Urmas Dresen to approach the Ministry of Culture with a request for funding.
The request landed on the government's agenda this week. The Ministry of Finance is proposing allocating €510,500 from the government reserve for the Ministry of Culture to pay for work that needs to be done on the hulk.
While Minister of Culture Piret Hartman (SDE) was convinced the request would be satisfied before the government sitting on Thursday, this has not happened yet, with the cabinet set to return to the matter next week. As an extraordinary transfer from the government reserve, the decision needs to be approved by the coalition council that is scheduled to meet next Monday. This could see the request approved by Thursday next.
Hartman said that the ministry cannot afford to transfer the money to the museum from its budget.
"Unfortunately, resources are tight in our administrative area, and €500,000 is a sum that our divisions simply don't have. Things are further complicated by costs growing across the board. Expenses have at least doubled compared to the same period last year, so we do not have that kind of money," the culture minister said.
Minister of Finance Annely Akkermann said that it is common to request funds from the government reserve for such major and unexpected finds.
Why so much?
Estonian Maritime Museum head Urmas Dresen said that the sum is needed to build a temporary conservation hall and steel structures around the hulk.
"We have plans for a temporary conservation hall where we can clean the wreck, monitor processes in the timber and get test samples. The timber frame used to transport the hulk to the Sea Plane Harbor needs to be removed as wood is not rigid and the hulk could be twisted under its own weight as it used to be a big ship," Dresen said.
Even though the museum conserved a medieval cog more than five years ago, the hall used at the time cannot be rebuilt as the new wreck is three times the size. The floor area of the new hall should be 450 square meters.
"If the hulk of the previous cog weighed a little under 28 tons, we are talking about roughly 100 tons in the case of this one. This is also a hint in terms of what its conservation might end up costing," Dresen said. He added that the temporary hall will be built around the ship, with very little extra room.
The museum director also pointed out that construction prices have grown considerably since the last wreck was conserved.
While the Lootsi tänav hulk will require more money in the future, Dresen said that the museum can handle it using own means in the future and that international grants are available for certain activities.
Visitors can take a peek at the conservation process through a window in the side of the conservation hall. The museum is also considering the option of allowing visitors to enter it in the future.
"Conservation will happen over several years. It is a long process, and the wood must dry very slowly for it to be permanently displayed in the future," Dresen said.
The hulk, the protective cover of which has already been damaged by the elements, must spend at least another three months in its current location. Urmas Dresen said that the tender to find the contractor could be concluded by January, with the conservation hall ready in March at the earliest.
Experts find the hulk and the surrounding finds to be valuable pieces of maritime history that need to be conserved and put on display.
The hulk of the massive cog was found at a depth of around 1.5m during construction work for a planned office building and is dated to the 1360s. The wreck is 24.5 meters long, 9 meters in beam and 4 meters in height.
Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Marcus Turovski