Like an exquisite antique boutique that has been warehousing deliveries for thousands of years but almost never opens its doors for customers, the Baltic Sea is lucky to have low saline content, low temperatures and oxygen levels—thus avoiding wood eating worms and other devourers of treasures. As a small sea goes, the Baltic's steep depths haven't been so lucky for sailors, ships or their cargoes that sank in sudden storms, fell prey to pirates or perished during countless naval battles over the ages.
A multinational construction consortium called Nord Stream, led by Russia's OAO Gazprom, is laying a 750 mile natural gas pipeline that passes along the outskirts of Sweden's islands and territorial waters. Extensive underwater scanning of a corridor about 30 miles long and one and a half miles wide between Russia and the European continent has discovered at least a dozen previously uncharted shipwrecks lying off the coast of the Swedish island of Gotland.
Nord Stream's remote vehicle film team analyzed images of nine of these and determined that they were more than a century old. Their photos revealed that three of the wrecks' hulls were intact, although resting upside down on the seabed at a depth of 430 feet. All of the sites will be hazardous to access and probably too deep for salvage divers, but their treasures will almost certainly send adventurous marine archaeologists peering and poking into the dark abyss.

Preserved intact
"Most are from the 1700s and 1800s, but some of the wrecks can be medieval," says Peter Norman, project manager at the National Heritage Board (Riksantikvarieämbetet). He reported that exterior views indicated the remains were preserved intact, although future missions using the robot mounted cameras will be needed to investigate inside the vessels.
Maritime archaeologists estimate that the oldest wrecks date from 1,000 years ago, such as one particular wooden ship that carried limestone. Since ancient times, flint and limestone were carried as ballast, and these cargoes were also sold or traded. Another of the younger wrecks is a remarkably well preserved sailing ship from the second half of the 1800s that rests upright with its masts still erect.
Experts believe that over 100,000 shipwrecks can be found in the Baltic, although so far only about 3,000 have been recorded. Some of the newly found vessels may be even older than Sweden's royal warship Wasa, which is today housed in an impressive museum in Stockholm not far from where it was discovered in 1961.
The wrecks were found in Sweden's economic zone, outside the direct route of the pipeline. Nord Stream has already run across numerous other sunken objects including a 3-century-old ship in the German Bay of Greifswald. They have also encountered nearly 80 sea mines ... and a washing machine.
Nord Stream promised they would not damage the wrecks during construction activities on the pipeline, which will annually carry 1.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to EU consumers.


Photography courtesy of Nord Stream.
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