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Shipping Perils Of The Baltic
The Baltic Sea is
a brackish, fjord-like sea with many inlets surrounded
by the countries of Germany, Denmark, Finland, Poland,
Estonia, Russia, Lithuania and Latvia. At any one time
15 per cent of the entire world's cargo is transported
through this area meaning there can be over 2,000 ships
making it the most crowded and polluted sea on earth.
The sea-bed is also crowded. When, in 2010, an
underwater pipeline was laid between Russia and Germany
thousands of shipwrecks were seen ranging from those of
merchant ships in times of peace to those of warships
and submarines in times of war.
Rocks have always been a hazard for shipping
particularly in earlier centuries. One ship that came to
grief in this way in 1771 was the Vrouw Maria. The Dutch
merchant ship was sailing from Amsterdam to St.
Petersburg carrying important Dutch paintings for
Catherine the Great as well as cloth, sugar, coffee and
zinc when it was smashed by rocks just off the south
west of Finland. Interest in the ship was revived in the
1970s for treasure-seekers when diplomatic
correspondence was found concerning the incident.
Storms have been a huge problem throughout the
centuries. On the 11 November 1468 the Hanseatic
merchant ship Hanneke Wrome carrying gold coins,
jewellery, fabric and honey sank in a bad storm with the
loss of over 200 lives. On 28 September 1994, the ferry
MS Estonia sailing from Tallinn, Estonia to Stockholm
sank near Turku, Finland with the massive peacetime loss
of 852 lives. The weather was rough but not exceptional
for an autumn storm according to the rescue commander
and the sinking was said to have been due to a bow-visor
failure to which the storm contributed.
Ice is a particular problem during the winter months
from November to May. In the winter of 2010/2011
two-thirds of the Baltic Sea was frozen with an average
ice thickness of between 50-60cm which challenged even
the ice-breakers. Cold winds cause drifting ice and make
navigation difficult. On the 5 March 2010 nearly 1,100
people had to be rescued as several ships including two
ferries became stuck in the ice including the Amorella
with 943 people on board.
Another hazard concerns the dangers of fire, explosion,
or toxicity that may be caused by the transport of
dangerous chemicals. On July 18 1989 the Oostzee, a
Dutch merchant ship, became caught in a storm at the
mouth of the Elbe river between Rotterdam and St.
Petersburg. It was carrying epichlorohydrin which leaked
from its drums hospitalising the 14 crew for 10 days.
There is much concern about environmental degradation in
the area with so much oil being transported causing
damaging spills. There is also a fear of more numerous
collisions in the future as the number of ships in the
Baltic Sea increases.
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