Why Is The Baltic Sea Home To So Many Shipwrecks?


One of several well-preserved wrecks at the bottom of the Baltic Sea was recently discovered in Lübeck, and it dates back to the 17th century as reported by DW.

400-year-old sunken ship

Divers found the remains of a roughly 400-year-old sunken ship from the Hanseatic era last year during a regular check of the Trave River in Lübeck, northern Germany. It was a big discovery for the city and a significant piece of its history. Divers have seen that the wreck’s partially exposed areas were infested with shipworm. The partially exposed wreck poses a significant risk of erosion. The city government has now chosen to save it as a result.

However, according to underwater anthropologist Florian Huber, wreck discoveries in the Baltic Sea are not unusual.

The Baltic Sea is home to between 10,000 and 100,000 shipwrecks, according to estimates. Due to its location in the western Baltic Sea and the fact that it was discovered during the height of the Hanseatic city’s maritime trade at the end of the 17th century, the wreck’s discovery is sensational for two reasons. According to Huber, “We don’t know that many ships from that era.”

A group of trading and commercial cities in northern Germany and the Baltic Sea region that up the Hanseatic League.

‘A giant, ice-cold museum’

According to Huber, who has been exploring the world’s oceans since 1992, such a discovery is “especially intriguing from a scientific standpoint, since you can learn how ships were made back then, what technology was behind them.” He claims that the roughly 150 barrels found on the Lübeck ship are similarly significant historical evidence. We gain knowledge of the historical cargo that was traded.

But why do wrecks and other long-lost artefacts survive in the Baltic Sea so well? There are several causes. Large portions of the northern European inland sea are chilly, gloomy, poor in oxygen, and low in salinity.

The Baltic Sea, according to Huber, is like a vast, ice-cold museum that preserves everything that falls into it. According to him, the cargo is frequently maintained along with the timber. “Leather and textile fragments are frequently discovered. The products are frequently still there; occasionally, the dried fish is still in the barrels. You locate bones. Anything organic survives underwater very, very well”, Huber elucidates. In fact, quicklime, a crucial building material sold throughout the Hanseatic era, was also found in small amounts in the barrels of the Lübeck disaster.

“Bottles of beer, wine, and champagne have been discovered in the Baltic Sea. Of course, they weren’t that old, but I’d estimate that they were still edible after 100 or 200 years. The champagne brought in tens of thousands of dollars at auction.”

Shipworm: biggest enemy of wooden wrecks

However, the cold and darkness also serve as natural repellents for one of the biggest enemies of shipwrecks, the shipworm Teredo navalis. This is especially advantageous for the wooden ships that are buried beneath the Baltic Sea. Oxygen-rich salt water is preferred by shipworm. The Baltic Sea becomes more freshwater-rich the further east you travel. “The shipworm can no longer exist in the Gulf of Bothnia around Finland and Sweden since there is virtually only pure water and very little salt there.”

There are frequently extremely well-preserved wrecks because of this. “Sometimes, two, three, four, or five-hundred-year-old shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea still have their masts attached and are standing upright. That is exceptional in the globe.”

Additionally, this explains why the ship components in Lübeck already appear a little “pitted.” The Baltic Sea’s westernmost region is where Lübeck is situated. Clear signs of the shipworm may be observed in the wreck’s timbers in photographs released by the city of Lübeck. But in addition to the shipworm, Huber notes that climate change, fishing trawlers, and looting also pose a threat to wrecks.

According to a Hanseatic municipal press statement on the remarkable discoveries, the shipwreck is in grave danger due to ocean currents and the shipworm. Because the find is considered to be “unique and noteworthy for the history and archaeology of the western Baltic Sea,” it must be protected and preserved.

Preserving wrecks is difficult

The preservation of the ship after it has been salvaged will be a huge undertaking for the city of Lübeck. Huber notes that nothing that emerges from the water can simply be dried elsewhere and then put in a museum.

Particularly, wood continues to function. It needs to be cautiously pulled out because it is soaked with water after decades on the seafloor. the ocean “must be swapped out by a liquid plastic in order to prevent the collapse of the wood cells. The procedure is pricy and complicated.”

The English Mary Rose and the Bremen Cog are two other rescued ships that provide outstanding illustrations of how difficult it is to preserve historic wrecks. Sweden pulled the 17th-century battleship, Vasa, from the Baltic Sea in 1961 and constructed a museum just for it. For 17 years, polyethylene glycol had to be applied to the wreck to keep the wood from shrinking or breaking as it dried.

According to Huber, “You always have to take into account whether you want it and whether you can afford it.”

Lübeck is committed to bringing the wreck from the Trave River back to life. It should be saved and conserved as soon as possible so that it might be saved for the future in all of its authenticity and maintained as a part of the history of the Hanseatic League.


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Source: DW


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