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History at the Bottom of the Baltic Sea

Located between Central and Northern Europe, the Baltic Sea incorporates a number of gulfs, one of which is the Gulf of Finland. Bordered by Finland to the north, Estonia to the south and Russia to the east, the Gulf of Finland stretches out as far as Saint Petersburg, where it is joined by the Neva River which flows through the city. With the countries surrounding it including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden, the Baltic Sea has a long history of trade and conflict, dating back to Roman times, and is the graveyard of an unknown number of ships that have sunk over the centuries.

Diluted by run-off from freshwater rivers, the Baltic Sea is far less salty than ocean water and this makes it a hostile environment for shipworms (Teledo navalis), a species of saltwater clam that damages, and eventually destroys, wooden structures such as ships and wooden piers. Without shipworms (also known as 'termites of the sea') drilling into them, wooden ships lying at the bottom of the Baltic Sea are remarkably well preserved.

Among the historic casualties in the Baltic Sea is a Russian Navy ship named America. Built in New York, the ship was bought by officials accompanying Nicholas I (Emperor of Russia between 1825 and 1855) in 1829 when he expressed his admiration for it. The America was considered to be one of the most luxurious and well-constructed ships at the time and remained in service for nearly three decades before meeting an unfortunate end. On her last voyage in October 1856, the America was carrying building materials, and although her mission was peaceful she had 10 cannons on board when hit by a cyclone off an island in the Gulf of Finland. It is thought that the rolling of the ship caused the cargo and cannons to shift, breaking up the wooden deck before the America crashed into rocks where it broke in two. Archeologists have recovered a number of items from the America as well as photographically documenting the underwater wreckage.

Other historically significant underwater treasures are the Russian frigate Oleg which sank in 1869 during a training exercise; the Russian military galiot Tobias Enge which crashed near the Finnish island of Hogland in 1771; and the Danish merchant ship Louise which sank after colliding with the America, with the latter surviving the incident only to be shipwrecked later.

More recent casualties, both accidental and deliberate, are ships and cargo from WWII, raising concerns about possible live munitions and other pollutants in the Baltic. Certainly, divers exploring the waters of the Baltic Sea have many challenges to deal with, but unraveling the mysteries of underwater graveyard appears to be an irresistible adventure for many.

 



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