RUSSIAN SPECIALISTS TO CHECK SUNKEN SHIPS

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MOSCOW, MAY 20, (RIA Novosti) - On May 20 the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry's expedition will start checking potentially dangerous underwater objects in the Baltic Sea's south-east sector.

Talking to RIA Novosti here today, people at the Emergency Situations Ministry's press service noted that 329 Soviet transport and auxiliary ships displacing about 700,000 tons had sunk in the Baltic Sea during the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany. More than 600 German ships and those of Germany's allies also went down there.

"Many of these ships, as well as WWII bottom mines, still threaten local navigation safety. First of all, this concerns the Kaliningrad (Russian enclave in the Baltic) seaport. We face similar hazards during dredging operations and construction of coastal facilities in the Kaliningrad region," the Emergency Situations Ministry's officials added. (The Red Army stormed Konigsberg, now called Kaliningrad, in April 1945. Fighting was particularly intense in the Konigsberg seaport - Ed.)

The expedition will specify the coordinates of dangerous underwater objects. The Professor Shtokman research ship will then study them with the help of her SeaLion and Gnome remote-controlled submersibles. Imaging systems will also be used for that purpose.

It is also intended to take bottom-water and sedimentary-layer samples. All these samples will then be analyzed at the Typhoon science-and-production association in Obninsk 100 km south-west of Moscow.

The Emergency Situations Ministry and the Russian Academy of Sciences organized their previous joint expedition in May-June 2004, studying the Russian sector of the Gulf of Finland. At that time, specialists studied twenty-nine areas where potentially dangerous underwater objects are located.

The Emergency Situations Ministry's specialists managed to identify two underwater objects, namely, the Sibir transport ship that was sent to the bottom August 20, 1941 by Luftwaffe planes near Seskar island.

All in all, 130 seawater and bottom-sedimentation samples were taken. Some of them showed that bottom-level petroleum concentrations exceeded maximum permissible levels 5-10-fold.

The first Baltic expedition took place in August-September 2000. At that time, specialists of the Emergency Situations Ministry found German chemical weapons that were scattered over a 10-square-kilometer area in Skagerrak strait. These CW munitions no longer present any environmental hazard.

Numerous objects resembling ships and their large fragments were found at a depth of 190 to 215 meters. The smallest objects are 15 to 25 meters long. And the largest measure 100 meters and even more.

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