25 incidents of chemical munitions caught by fishermen in the Baltic Sea were reported in 2003
Helsinki, 14 September (HELCOM) - As many as 25 incidents of chemical munitions caught by fishermen in the Baltic Sea were reported during last year, according to the annual statistics submitted by Denmark to HELCOM. Most of the netted chemical munitions were completely corroded and represented lumps of mustard gas, sneeze gas and tear gas. As lead country for dumped chemical munitions, Denmark prepared this 2003 report based on information received as of 31 August 2004.
The vast majority of the catches occurred east of Bornholm, near the area were large amounts of chemical munitions were dumped after World War II. 21 incidents involved mustard gas with a total weight of approximately 1005 kg of netted clay-like lumps. In two other episodes 105 kg of sneeze gas lumps were caught by fishing vessels. And small pieces of tear gas totaling 0,25 kg were reported during two more incidents. Most of catches were released by fishermen at sea, and some disposed of on land.
Statistics indicate that 2003 holds the biggest increase in the total amount of incidents and weight of the chemical munitions caught in the Baltic Sea since the mid 1990s. Over the period 1995-2002 about 3 -11 incidents were reported each year, with a total weight of munitions not exceeding 512 kg. The reason for the increase is unknown. This is probably due to a combination of different factors, like spreading of dumped munitions, and increased fishing near dumping areas. But still the record number of incidents during the last 20 years was in 1991 with 103 catches amounting 5378 kg.
About 40,000 tonnes of chemical munitions were dumped into the Baltic Sea after the Second World War – mostly in the area to the east of Bornholm, south–east of Gotland and south of Little Belt. It is estimated that these chemical munitions contained some 13,000 tonnes of chemical warfare agents. Dumping areas are marked as foul with “anchoring and fishing not recommended” on nautical charts. However, fishing in these areas is not prohibited, with commercial fishing carrying on.
Discoveries of warfare agents during fishing trips outside the dumping areas happen from time to time. The problem is recognized especially in the area of Bornholm. Fishermen operating here repeatedly find bombs, shells and fragments thereof as well as lumps of mustard gas in their bottom trawl nets. The crews of fishing vessels risk contamination by chemical warfare agents if lumps of viscous mustard gas or chemical munitions are caught in bottom trawls and hauled on board. Simply touching chemical agents or inhaling of the vapours is very dangerous.
Chemical warfare agents break down at varying rates into less toxic, water-soluble substances. Some compounds, however, show an extremely low solubility and slow degradability (e.g. viscous mustard gas, Clark I and II, and Adamsite). These compounds cannot occur in higher concentrations in water, so wide-scale threat to the marine environment from these dissolved chemical warfare agents can be ruled out. HELCOM has carried out extensive assessments and concluded that the threat from residues of warfare agents or chemical munitions to the coastal areas is also unlikely.
Mr Nikolay Vlasov
Tel: +358 9 6220 2235
Fax: +358 9 6220 2239
Mr Tadas Navickas
Tel: +358 9 6220 2242
Fax: +358 9 6220 2239