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100 wrecks containing oil in Finnish waters

YLE NewsEye on the Arctic

The Finnish Environment Institute 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 34 miles from the island of Gotska Sandön, a national park.

More than a decade ago, the Finnish Environment Institute 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 (metric) tons of various types of oil,” says Jorma Rytkönen, head of the institute's environmental accident prevention team.

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.

The Finnish Environment Institute is now carrying out an European Union-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.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.