Pipeline Construction Unearths Treasure Trove in Baltic Sea

The construction of the pipeline also raises concerns among environmentalists, who fear that the massive project will disrupt the ecosystem in the Baltic Sea. Such fears have prompted Nord Stream to assiduously portray itself as a gentle giant.

The company's PR offensive includes projects like building artificial banks for seals in the Baltic and salvaging crumbling ship fossils, as if it were adhering to the old Boy Scout motto: "Every day a good deed." This has unexpectedly turned Nord Stream into a major archaeological enterprise.

However, the company's deeds at sea are not entirely voluntary. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea dictates that archaeological and historical finds in international waters must be protected and preserved.

For maritime archaeologists, the Baltic is a treasure trove with many precious objects that have yet to be salvaged. A number of spectacular finds have caused a sensation over the last decade.

For example: In the summer of 2003, divers off the Swedish island of Gotska Sandön discovered, at a depth of 125 meters, the wreck of a DC-3 that went missing on June 13, 1952. A Soviet fighter jet had shot down the Swedish spy plane, with its crew of eight people, over the Baltic. Using DNA analysis, experts have identified the remains of the pilot.

'An Enormous Boon'

Three years later, employees of the Polish oil company Petrobaltic stumbled across the wreckage of the German aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin during drilling activities. The fate of the vessel, once a prestigious but unfinished project in Hitler's navy, grew vague after the Soviet fleet seized it near the end of the war.

The discovery debunked rumors that the Red Army had overloaded the ship with loot, causing it to capsize off the Russian coast. In fact, the 260-meter Graf Zeppelin sank off the Polish coast, about 55 kilometers from the port of the town of Wladyslawowo.

The fate of the British submarine HMS E18 remained unclear for more than 90 years. It was known that the vessel embarked on its last voyage from the port of Reval (now the Estonian capital Tallinn) on May 25, 1916.

Before the E18 sank -- hit by a torpedo, or struck by a mine -- it dealt a severe blow to the German destroyer V 100. A short time later, the E18, a relic of the pioneering days of submarine building, sank out of sight. Last October the submarine was rediscovered near the Estonian island of Hiiumaa.

Scuttled Ships, Forgotten Wars

Preparations for the Baltic Sea pipeline have now provided archaeologists with a new crop of potentially spectacular finds. Nord Stream's salvage crews have identified about 70 shipwrecks in the territorial waters of the nations bordering the Baltic Sea (Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden), all within a corridor that is only 125 meters wide.

"This is an enormous boon for archaeology," says Thomas Förster, project coordinator with the German Oceanographic Museum in Stralsund. Förster himself helped in the recovery of one of the most spectacular finds in the Baltic Sea to date. In 2000, his team salvaged the well-preserved remains of a 14th-century trading vessel -- known as a "cog" -- off the west coast of the island of Poel.

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