Officials in Murmansk work to tie sunken ships to their owners

Murmansk Region in Russia has promised to track down ship owners who have left the hulks of abandoned and sunken boats and ships on parts of the Kola Peninsula’s coast and waters.

The area is forming a broad working group “Liquidating the nuclear legacy of the Arctic”, recruiting prosecutors, environmental oversight agencies, port authorities, emergency officials and radioactive waste handlers to track down who is responsible for any of the 97 ships that lie listing on beaches or sunken in the waters off Murmansk.

The new working group stems from a 2014 governmental decree on targeting contamination and other dangerous impacts on the environment in the waters surrounding the Murmansk Region and continues a pilot programme that started last year.

The Russian government has given the pilot programme R50m ($876,000) to start, but funding is expected to increase once a strategy for disposing of vessels and cleaning up Kola Bay water is devised.

The project’s first stages began last year and by December 48 sunken boats and ships had been charted, along with 48 more in shallows or along seashore. They were then ranked by their perceived impact on Kola Bay, and by the danger they pose to other ships navigating the waterways.

A major focus of the 2017 pilot programme will be taming a dump of ship metal on the northern Kola Peninsula, near the village of Retinskoye. This will be the first major project in waterway cleaning and toward eliminating the environmental impact of old ships in the area.

Key among the group’s tasks, said project leader Vladimir Khadobin, was tracing the ownership of the abandoned vessels. Owners are responsible for the cost of raising their wrecks, but when they cannot be located the cost is borne by the state. Khadobin warned that not all wrecks near Murmansk could be brought up from the depths. “If [the ships] are on the bottom of the ocean, then it must be evaluated if they pose an environmental or navigational risk,” Khadobin said. If not, they can be left where they are.