Potential Shipwreck Pollution in the Baltic Sea: Overview of Work in the Baltic Sea States
Report, 2011

In 2005, it was estimated that there were 8,569 potentially polluting shipwrecks in the world’s oceans and that 1,583 of those were tankers. 75% of the wrecks sank during the Second World War. Over sixty years later these wrecks are significant global risks of marine pollution. The Swedish Maritime Administration is currently conducting an inventory and risk analysis of potential pollution from shipwrecks within Swedish territorial waters. This study aims at supplementing the inventory with an overview of any work conducted in eight Baltic Sea States on potential pollution from old and ownerless shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea. The main part of the study was based on email conversations and information gathering from responsible authorities in each State. The methods also included initial exploratory searches in the database Scopus (Elsevier BV), on Google and investigations of relevant websites. The results show that potential pollution from shipwrecks is an environmental issue receiving little attention. No research on shipwreck pollution in the Baltic Sea was found in database searches. Investigated documentation within the European Union showed that shipwreck pollution was included as a flagship project under the Action Plan to the Baltic Sea Strategy. Although the topic has been raised a few times, nothing has been done within the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM). It is concluded that the sessions within the framework of the Copenhagen Agreement has been the closest and most active regional forum for considering shipwreck pollution for three Baltic Sea States; Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The results revealed varied commitments on potential shipwreck pollution in seven of the eight investigated States. No information was obtained concerning the situation in Russia. All of the other States have designated authorities for mapping shipwrecks, though mainly for safety of navigation concerns. In Finland however, the work with an inventory of potential environmental hazards from wrecks started already in 1987. The work is conducted by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). Shipwrecks are divided into four categories depending on the level of risk for oil spill or chemical spill. Furthermore, on site inventories are conducted annually for wrecks in the highest risk category. SYKE has also removed oil from five wrecks. In Poland, the Maritime Institute in Gdańsk has conducted surveys, monitoring and wreck categorization in the Polish Exclusive Economic Zone since 1998. The work has resulted in a list of wrecks categorized according to the “degree of danger” to the environment. It is concluded that Sweden can learn much from the experiences and findings of both SYKE and the Maritime Institute in Gdańsk, and that regional harmonization of approaches to shipwreck pollution should be higher on the agenda at HELCOM. It is recommended that a mutual presentation of Sweden’s, Finland’s and Poland’s work at HELCOM is conducted to raise the issue.






Swedish Maritime Administration


Miljörisker från fartygsvrak

Baltic Sea

Regeringsuppdrag 2009/4683/TR


Erik Svensson

Chalmers, Shipping and Marine Technology, Division of Maritime Operations

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance


Subject Categories

Transport Systems and Logistics

Political Science

Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified

Environmental Sciences

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