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20 Jul, 2007 01:21

Russia's Kola Bay becomes graveyard for ships

A huge clean-up is underway in North Russia's Kola Bay, which is known to sailors as a minefield because of the high number of vessels immersed there.

A frontier watch boat called Nadyozhny – or 'reliable' – didn't live up to its name. After being written off it was ransacked by precious metal seekers. As a result, it sank right in front of the mooring line of Murmansk port. It took divers almost a month to lift it from the bottom of the sea. They promise that less than in a week it will be moved and recycled.

This is part of a massive campaign launched in Kola Bay to purge the district of sunken ships. It has been ignited by the start of oil and gas production in the Northern Shtokman deposit. And the path needs to be cleared for heavy tankers.

Local ship captains actively support the ecologists and authorities – also for their own benefit.

“Not all sunken ships are marked on maps. Very often moorage turns out to be just impossible,” Nikolay Cherednik, a rescue ship captain, says.

Overall, about 200 battle, transport and fishing boats lie at the bottom of the Kola Bay. All they not only hinder navigation, but also present a potential ecological menace.

Now the local prosecutor's office is also participating in the campaign, promising tough penalties for ship owners.

“If the ships are not lifted, we'll apply administrative and even criminal codes against their owners,” Yury Dyuzhev, Murmansk Transport Prosecutor, stated.

However, most sunken ships no longer have an owner. And ecologists say lifting works may last a decade without strong state support.