I am terrified of depth, and especially of what is hidden in it. But when it comes to things you love, fear suddenly becomes much less of a priority. And so, the vision of the German tanker sunken in 1945 and currently sitting on the bed of my beloved Baltic Sea, terrifies me more than pictures of the ghostly shipwrecks from my child books that haunt me to this day.
The Baltic Sea, and especially the Gulf of Gdansk, is home to around 20 thousand identified sunken vessels, the reminiscence of the turbulent times in the history and numerous military operations. The bottom of the sea bears witness to the tragedies of the World War II, tragedies which consequences we still face today. The political, economic and social repercussions in the aftermath of the War are well-known but there are environmental implications of it as well. Among these hundreds of sunken vessels at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, the vast majority served military purposes carrying ammunition or fuel to support offshore operations.
One of them, called Franken, is a WWII German tanker that was sunk by the Soviet airforce in 1945. It is estimated that, as a resupply ship, it carried up to 1.5 million litres of petrol and that is, in addition to the petrol it used to move itself. Dr Benedykt Hac from the Maritime Institute in Gdańsk told the Baltic Daily: “The progressive corrosion means that the steel covering the hull and the interior of the ship is getting thinner, and the probability of the wreck collapsing under its own weight is increasing.” The unfavourable position of Franken on the seabed increases the risk of its displacement and consequently breaking down of the ship.
If it wasn't for the research expedition to the seabed earlier this year that aimed to determine the scale of a problem and the probability of a potential leak, this ticking bomb would most likely not see a daylight. Thanks to scientists and environmentalists from the MARE foundation and the Maritime Institute in Gdańsk which conducted the research, we know that a threat of an environmental catastrophy is real and the leak is all but inevitable. When it happens, 1.5 million litres of fuel will enter the Gulf of Gdańsk and the wider Baltic Sea, affecting both marine life and nine boarding countries, including Scandinavia, Russia and the Baltic States.
Not acting while we still have time means only one thing. An ecological disaster like we have never experienced before. Thousands of species gone, polluted beaches and destroyed natural reserves (see below) due to the central location of a wreck and its close proximity to the coastline, and huge consequences for the local community. The adverse economic impact of an oil spill is closely related to a blooming tourist industry in the Baltic region and people's intentions to visit destinations with the high contamination risk. The duration of tourism impact may go well beyond the length of time where the disruption of tourist services occurred, to a much longer period where tourists' perception of a destination may change and influence their decision to revisit. As we can see the consequences of a potential oil leak are dire and we must do all we can to prevent it.
For this purpose The Mare Foundation launched a large media campaign beginning in July 3rd which sum up the results of a previously realized research expedition. Through this campaign they seek to encourage political mobilization and raise public awareness. The project “Reduction of the negative impact of oil spills from the Franken shipwreck” carried by The MARE Foundation is already set up and involves careful pumping out of the oil form the tanks. This initiative is largely supported by the The Baltic Sea Conservation Foundation. Now we need government attention to take responsibility for the problem of oils spills and offer financial support during environmental protection efforts. Please sign the petition that will be sent to local and national authorities here. Your voice really matters!