Call for action to prevent an environmental and economic disaster in the Gdańsk Bay

According to the Act on the marine areas of the Republic of Poland and maritime administration (Journal of Laws 2017, item 2205), the Gdańsk Bay (in the part, where the Franken wreck is located) belongs to the internal waters, which are under the jurisdiction of the Maritime Office in Gdynia and are part of the territory of the Republic of Poland. Therefore, the Polish administration is responsible for protecting and maintaining good environmental status of the Bay, which can be critically threatened in the nearest future by an uncontrolled spill of oil from the T/S Franken tanker (the position of the wreck according to the Hydrographic Office of the Polish Navy is as follows: φ= 54° 32’ 19.452” N, λ=18° 57’ 57,024” E).

Due to the existing and highly documented risk of spill, the MARE Foundation together with the Maritime Institute in Gdańsk make an appeal to all stakeholders (including the Maritime Office, the Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation, Ministry of Environment, local administration, as well all stakeholders and business representatives whose interest is to maintain good environmental status of the Gdańsk Bay and the surrounding coastal areas ), to:

  • Finance the cleaning operations of the T/S Franken, and
  • Take the responsibility for securing the wreck to prevent a potential ecological and economic disaster in the Gdańsk Bay.

The wreck of the T/S Franken tanker The tanker Franken is the largest identified wreck in the Gdańsk Bay and is considered to be a potential threat to the marine environment, according to the wreck classification made by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). Basing on the analysis of historical documents, it can be assumed with certainty that at the moment of sinking, the ship carried approximately 2.700 tonnes of fuel and approximately 300 of fuel for its own use. These amounts are well documented. The survey made on the wreck in April 2018 indicated that approx. 40% of tanks are sealed. They may contain up tp 1.200 tonnes of fuel, i.e. 1.5 million litres.

The exposure of the steel from which the ship was built to salt water causes its rapid degradation, thus very seriously affecting the structural strength. Due to the corrosion of the ship's hull, every year the ship’s plating is decreased by approx. 0.1 millimetres (a value typical for this area of the Baltic Sea) and thus, 70 years after sinking, the overall corrosive loss is estimated at approx. 7mm.  This means that the shipwreck is at the verge of collapse under its weight (the photos show serious losses in the ship construction).

The preliminary analysis of the Maritime Institute in Gdańsk indicates that if no actions are taken to secure and clean the wreck of the T/S Franken, the collapse of the wreck will most probably result in an uncontrolled leakage of the fuel from the tanker, and in consequence a large part of the Gdańsk Bay may be contaminated, as well as the beaches from Piaski to Hel and 6 Natura 2000 sites: the Puck Bay (PLB220005), the Puck Bay and the HEL Peninsula (PLH220032), the Orłowo Reef (PLH220105), the Vistula river mouth  (PLB220004), a Refuge in the Vistula river mouth (PLH220044), the Vistula Spit (PLH280007). If this black scenario is fulfilled, many valuable and protected habitats and species could be destroyed or disappear. The achievement of the objectives of the Maritime Strategy Framework Directive could be jeopardized.

It is important to bear in mind that, apart from an ecological disaster, a fuel spill from the wreck will cause catastrophic economic and financial losses in the entire Gdańsk Bay. The fuel spills on the beaches will have a negative impact on tourism in the entire region. Closures and cleaning of the beaches of the total length of 80 km during the tourist season will have a negative impact on the tourist industry (hotels, pension houses, restaurants, cafes, pubs, cultural  centres and other tourist attractions) are threatened by losses counted in hundreds of millions zlotys (it is estimated that the loss of one season means approx. 500 million loss for the Pomeranian voivodeship).

The cleaning of the wreck will undoubtedly be very expensive, but the cost will be much lower than the total environmental and financial losses, incurred by Poland in the case of an uncontrolled leakage and contamination of the Gdańsk Bay. It is extremely difficult to estimate the costs of the cleaning of the wreck, because all companies dealing with this type of work make costs estimates on a case-by-case basis, depending on various factors. However, on the basis of an analysis of the costs of similar operations on other wrecks and assuming that there are 5-6 tanks to clean and 3-4 to be checked (including the tanks which are the most difficult to access, located in the engine room) in the Franken wreck, it could be assumed that the costs of such operation range between 6 and 8 million Euro. It could be assumed that this i san optimistic scenario and the actual costs may range between 10 – 20 million Euro.

Taking into account the existing risk of fuel spill and the costs of the cleaning operation,  measures aimed at acquiring the funds should be undertaken as soon as possible.

At the same time, we want to draw your attention that the Baltic Sea, in particular the Gdańsk Bay is our national good. Therefore, we trust that local stakeholders and the Polish administration, as well as business representatives will take interest in this inevitable disaster and will make all efforts to clean the T/S FRANKEN wreck, before it is too late. Only by taking action to prevent the oil spill, we can save the Gdańsk Bay for ourselves and the future generations.