100 wrecks containing oil in Finnish waters

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The shallow Baltic Sea is the final resting place of thousands of ships. (Eila Haikarainen / Yle )
The shallow Baltic Sea is the final resting place of thousands of ships. (Eila Haikarainen / Yle )
The Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) says it is basically a matter of time before Finland faces an oil leak such as the one discovered recently near Sweden.

A ship that sank decades ago in Swedish waters has begun to leak oil. The wreck is on the seabed some 55 kilometres from the island of Gotska Sandön, a national park.

More than a decade ago, the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) mapped out the known wrecks in the Finnish parts of the Baltic and the amount of oil they contain.

“There are about 1,000 wrecks in Finnish territorial waters and about 100 of them are believed to contain oil, of which about two dozen may hold 100 tonnes of various types of oil,” says Jorma Rytkönen, head of the environmental accident prevention team at SYKE.

Rytkönen says it is very likely that some of the submerged ships in Finnish waters will begin to leak at some point.

“A large proportion of the vessels are reaching the age when they are beginning to acidify. Because of corrosion and environmental factors, oil gradually begins to drip out,” he told Yle on Monday.

Late summer leaks

Rytkönen says there is no way to pinpoint when shipwreck may begin to leak.

“Wrecks are all different and it’s very difficult to tell in advance which one will rust away at what point in time. Every year we have information about certain vessels that may begin to leak a little oil in the late summer. We put them on a list and try to monitor them more carefully. At some point we have to make decisions as to whether the time is ripe to begin preventive measures,” he explains.

SYKE is now carrying out an EU-funded project studying the wreck registries maintained by Sweden, Estonia and Finland.

“From that, we will select vessels that are potential threats to the environment. We’ll consider whether we should clean these wrecks up, or what we should do,” Rytkönen says.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada to launch new search for Arctic shipwreck, Eye on the Arctic

Finland:  WWF Finland concerned about oil leak in Baltic Sea, Yle News

Norway: Norwegians to document shipwreck’s last winter in Arctic Canada, CBC News

Sweden:  Crews battle weather to clean up oil spill in western Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States:  Oil-soaked snow removal continues at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, Alaska Dispatch

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