Catches of chemical munitions in the Baltic have ceased
Helsinki, 20 October (HELCOM Information Service) – Unlike in previous years, there were no catches of dumped World War II chemical munitions in the Baltic Sea in 2008, according to the latest annual statistics. There was only one report of an empty bomb shell netted by fishermen east of the Danish island of Bornholm near an area where large amounts of chemical munitions were dumped after World War II. As Lead Country for monitoring dumped chemical munitions, Denmark prepared the latest annual report for HELCOM, based on information received from the Baltic Sea coastal countries as of 24 September 2009.
Catches of dumped World War II chemical munitions in the Baltic Sea have substantially decreased over the past several years. In the last couple of years there were only one-two incidents of chemical munitions being caught in the nets. The chemical munitions netted in 2007 were completely corroded and comprised lumps of mustard gas totalling approximately 58 kg. The weight of the catch in 2006 was only 6 kg. All catches were released at sea.
“It’s a very welcome development,” says Anne Christine Brusendorff, HELCOM’s Executive Secretary. "There has been a decreasing trend in the number of catches since 2003. However, experts are not, as yet, attributing it to any specific factors. The reason for the dramatic decrease is unknown. These variations are probably due to a combination of factors such as the intensity of fishing activities in the areas close to the dumped chemical munitions and the Recommendations issued by HELCOM and the local authorities.”
One of the biggest increases in both the numbers of incidents and the total weight of the chemical munitions caught in the Baltic Sea since the mid-1990s was in 2003 when 1,110 kg of gas-derived lumps was netted in 25 incidents. Over the period 1995-2002, some 5 -11 incidents were reported annually - the total weight of the munitions did not exceed 514 kg a year. The highest number of incidents during the last 20 years was in 1991 when a total of 5,378 kg of munitions was netted in 103 incidents.
About 40,000 tonnes of chemical munitions were dumped into the Baltic Sea after World War II – mostly in the area to the east of Bornholm, southeast of Gotland and south of the 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 waters is not prohibited and commercial fishing continues.
Warfare agents are also discovered outside the dumping areas from time to time, especially near Bornholm. Fishermen in these waters occasionally find bombs, shells or fragments of munitions and even lumps of mustard gas in their bottom trawl nets. The crews of fishing vessels risk contamination from chemical warfare agents if the lumps of viscous mustard gas or chemical munitions caught in bottom trawls are hauled on board. Simply touching these chemical agents or inhaling their 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). As these compounds cannot occur at higher concentrations in water, any wide-scale threat to the marine environment from these chemical warfare agents can be ruled out. HELCOM has carried out an extensive assessment and concluded that any threat to coastal areas from such residues of warfare agents or chemical munitions is unlikely.
HELCOM web page on dumped WWII chemical munitions
The Final Report of the ad hoc Working Group on Dumped Chemical Munitions (HELCOM CHEMU) to the 16th Meeting of the Helsinki Commission (1995)
Report on Chemical Munitions Dumped in the Baltic Sea, Report to the 15th Meeting of Helsinki Commission 8-11 March 1994 from the ad hoc Working Group on Dumped Chemical Munitions (HELCOM CHEMU), January 1994
Note to Editors:
The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, usually referred to as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), is an intergovernmental organisation of the nine Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Community working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution and to ensure safety of navigation in the region.
HELCOM is the governing body of the "Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area," more usually known as the Helsinki Convention.
For more information, please contact:
Mr. Nikolay Vlasov
Tel: +358 (0)207 412 635
Fax: +358 (0)207 412 639