Baltacar. Diving on underwater monuments

Baltic Underwater

Historical shipwrecks are important elements of the joint past of Baltic Sea countries and non-renewable resources, which are used for scientifi c research, interpretation of historical events, educational objectives and also for the development of cultural tourism. The purpose of establishment of underwater wreck parks is to facilitate access to antiquities and ensure their sustainable management at the same time. Following the principles that spare the wrecks makes it possible to keep the underwater sites that are sensitive to human impact open to visitors for longer.

Diving to underwater monuments is regulated by the Heritage Conservation Act. Diving to underwater monuments and in their
protection zones is allowed under the instruction of a business operator that offers diving services within the scope of its economic activities or on the basis of a diving permit. A diving permit can only be used by the holder of the permit. Being caring and responsible when practising any activities (incl. diving, sailing, fishing) at sea as well as inland bodies of water helps preserve underwater cultural monuments and significantly reduce human impact. It’s possible to get information about underwater cultural monuments by taking a look at the state register of cultural monuments at, which also contains information about the shipwrecks that have occurred in Estonian waters. The information can be found in the section Wreck Register.

All underwater monuments have been entered on a nautical chart. The Heritage Conservation Board must be informed as soon as possible when a new site is found. The underwater cultural heritage of the Baltic Sea is a unique source material in the context of Europe as well as the rest of the world. Let’s give it the appreciation it deserves. Dive responsibly!

All six wrecks are associated with the events of World War I and the Estonian War of Independence. Both of them played a major role in the birth of the Republic of Estonia.

Cargo steamer E. Russ was built at the Stettin Oderwerke shipyard in 1909. The ship was 93.3 metres long and 13.4 metres wide, and it carrying capacity was 2,439 GRT. Originally, it belonged to the German shipping company Ernst Russ, but on 2 July 1919 had been given to England.

When World War I ended, the United States Liquidation Commission, formed on 11 February 1919, began to clear stockpiles of supplies they had accumulated in Europe by simply selling them off. Estonia also purchased goods “…to equip the nation and to promote national industry”. The national forces lacked almost everything – clothing, footwear, vehicles, tools, weapons, ammunition, horses, food and so on.

In early August 1919, the steamship E. Russ arrived in France at Bordeaux harbour and then headed for Tallinn with a full cargo. On 15 September, after a two-week journey, the steamship reached Tahkuna Peninsula, where on a stormy sea at 4 am in the morning it struck a floating mine. Even though the sailor on watch saw the mine it was too late to save the ship. The mine was too close and despite Captain John Jappy’s attempts to save the ship from disaster it sailed straight into it. The ship sank within 15 minutes. The crew of 27 along with 8 passengers all survived. One crew member was injured in the explosion.

There were close to fifty cars on board the E. Russ, of which some were stored in the hold, while the rest were on the deck. In addition to the cars there were spare parts and two motorbikes. The ship’s hold mostly contained foodstuffs: salted meat, bacon, sardines, oleomargarine, vinegar, dried potatoes and carrots, turnips, onions, plums, bread, marmalade, condensed milk, coffee and tea. There was also tobacco, cigarettes, candles, towels, boots, overcoats and medical supplies. Close to 102 barrels of alcohol were stored on the ship’s deck. After the accident, everything that could be salvaged from the vicinity of the E. Russ and the beach was collected. Goods to a value of US $11,631.10 were retrieved. These included a few dozen barrels of spirits (3,400 litres), about 100 boxes of medicines, a box of food, three car tyres, 20 empty, rusted and broken metal dishes, a few barrels of turpentine, 13 wooden cart frames, one barrel of vinegar and three life rings. In June 1920, there was still correspondence with the head of the department for commerce about who to give the three life rings to.

After the War of Independence, many attempts were made to find and dismantle the wreck of the merchant ship E. Russ, but no doubt these were unsuccessful. The wreck had been located 2011 by the Estonian Maritime Administration and identified during fieldwork by National Heritage Board of Estonia 2012. The wreck, located at a depth of 36 metres, turned out to be the wreck of a steamship with many interesting details.

Location: Baltic Sea, north of Tahkuna Peninsula in Hiiumaa
Coordinates: 59 12.577, 22 38.077
Cultural monument reg. no: 30210,
Diving: Suitable for experienced divers under the instruction of a business operator that offers diving services or on the basis of a diving permit.  An anchor buoy has been placed next to the wreck for the navigation season and there are information boards on either side of the wreck.
Status: The damage caused by the naval mine explosion can be seen on the wreck of the steamer. The remains of the scattered cargo can be seen on and around the wreck, which have largely been well preserved. Several tools, incl. hammers, two-man saws, etc., footwear, bottles of various sizes (incl. medicine bottles), household items, tyres of different vehicles, cart wheels, etc., can be seen.

Source: Estonian National Heritage Board

Naval architect Ivan Bubnov presented the draft of a new submarine to the navy in January 1905 in related to the Russo-Japanese War. According to his idea, the submarine had to be able to operate in the territorial waters of Japan and also attack the warships located at the enemy’s ports. Basically, the intention was to build a warship with an increased range of action. 

The construction of the submarine Akula started at the St Petersburg Shipyard on 7 December 1906. The main reason of the delay was the fact that since the submarine was a unique prototype, the Russians could not build the necessary engines quickly enough. The diesel engines were finally ready by March 1909. The launch ceremony of the submarine was held on 22 August 1909 in St Petersburg. Various tests were carried out with the Akula from 1909 to 1911, mostly near Kronstadt, Björko and Tallinn. The submarine dove 40 times in 1911 alone and travelled 182 nautical miles when ubmerged. Testing the submarine Akula was officially finished on 14 September 1911, when the Technical Committee of the Navy allowed for the warship to be put to service. Although the technical leadership of the navy considered the submarine an all-round success, they pointed out some deficiencies as well. One of them was the slow speed of the submarine (only 11.5 knots instead of 16 when surfaced and 6.5 knots instead of 7 when submerged) and the small capacity of the fuel reserve tanks. These deficiencies reduced the range of action of the submarine. However, they praised the steerability, seaworthiness and manoeuvrability of the submarine, which is why the prototype vessel Akula was used as the example when building Bars class submarines.

In 1911 the Akula was put in active service in the Baltic Fleet. The submarine Akula was used for patrol 19 times in World War I. The last battle raid took place in November 1915, when the Akula was sent on a patrol mission between Liepaja and Klaipeda. Four extra naval mines were placed on the submarine for this mission, which had to be laid in the fairway used by the enemy without being noticed. However, the Akula did not lay the mines. Instead, the vessel hit a mine during the mission and sank with the entire crew. The Akula was deleted from the fleet list on 15 March 1917. 35 crewmembers were killed.

Location: Baltic Sea, north of Kõpu Peninsula in Hiiumaa
Coordinates: 59 08.502, 22 11.663
Cultural monument reg. no: 30392,
Diving: suitable for experienced divers under the instruction of a business operator that offers diving services or on the basis of a diving permit. Diving to the wreck is not dangerous when the requirements for diving to monuments are followed. An anchor buoy has been placed next to the wreck for the navigation season.

Source: Estonian National Heritage Board

The Royal Navy of the United Kingdom started giving attention to mine trawling after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). The main reason for this was the capacity of the Russians to efficiently use naval mines in defence against the Japanese fleet. Two old torpedo boats were reconstructed into minesweepers on the orders of the British Admiralty in 1908 and as of 1913, the Royal Navy already had six minesweepers in its service. Said vessels were used to regularly practice the liquidation of mine fields. 

However, the Admiralty did not have a design of the minesweeper as a specific type of warship with determined specifications. The old vessels used until then didn’t have the capacity required for operating in the open sea. This is why the development of a new warship was undertaken. The understanding was that the crews of the future minesweepers had to be small and the vessels could not be armed or armoured. This meant that they were not intended for use in direct warfare. Said criteria were based on the fact that mine trawling inevitably leads to losses, which is why manning the vessels with large crews or investing large sums of money in the vessels would not be practical. 

The Admiralty set new criteria for the vessels to be designed. Wartime required the vessels to perform different roles: mine trawling, anti-submarine
operations, supporting convoys, towing vessels and organisation of transport. The need to perform various operational tasks influenced the design of the ships. Ordinary passenger steamers were used as an example, because the construction of the hull of the multi-purpose minesweeper of the navy had to be as simple as possible. 

The minesweeper Myrtle, was launched on 11 October 1915. The squadron of British light cruisers operated actively on the Baltic Sea during the Estonian War of Independence (1918-1920). They mainly helped the Republic of Estonia fight against Soviet Russia and controlled the activities of the German troops in the Baltic States. The minesweeper Myrtle perished during a minesweeping operation in a German minefi eld near Harilaid on 15 July 1919. Six marines were killed.

Location: Baltic Sea, northwest of Saaremaa
Coordinates: 58 35.350; 21 46.161
Cultural monument reg. no: 22265,
Diving: Suitable for experienced divers under the instruction of a business operator that offers diving services or on the basis of a diving permit. An anchor buoy has been placed next to the wreck for the navigation season and there are information boards on either side of the wreck.

Source: Estonian National Heritage Board

The fish trawler Altair was built in Papenburg, Jos. L. Meyer Werft Shipyard. The vessel was comman – deered to the auxiliary fleet of the German Navy on 21 December 1916, soon after it was built. The Altair would have operated as a fish trawler on the North Sea after the war. In 1917 the Altair was included in the 3rd anti-submarine flotilla, which participated in Operation Albion. The trawler Altair perished at 7:18 AM on
14 October 1917 in a Russian minefield in Tagalaht Bay. 10 of the 31-man crew were killed.

Location: Baltic Sea, west of Sõru Harbour in Hiiumaa
Coordinates: 58 41.129, 22 15.036
Cultural monument reg. no: 30728,
Diving: suitable for experienced divers under the instruction of a business operator that offers diving services or on the basis of a diving permit. An anchor boy has been placed next to the wreck for the navigation season.

Source: Estonian National Heritage Board

The ship was built in W. Lindbergs Varvs- och Verkstads AB Shipyard in Stockholm, Sweden. Operated as a cargo ship under the name of Linnea in Finnish waters until 1914. The vessel was commission to the Baltic Fleet of Russia on 14 August 1914 after the outbreak of World War I. At first, it was used as a transport vessel by the navy, but rebuilt into a minesweeper at the end of the same year. The Linnea was renamed the minesweeper No-1 after it was included in the Baltic Fleet. It soon became clear that the size and limited manoeuvrability of the vessel were not that suitable for minesweeping. However, finding a more suitable vessel at the start of the war was not possible, which is why the ship continued serving as a minesweeper also in 1915.

On 16 September 1915 the minesweeper No. 1 hit a mine laid by the German submarine UC-4 five nautical miles northwest of Vormsi island and sank. No crewmembers were lost, as the minesweeper No-10 managed to save them.

Location: Väinameri Sea, northwest of Vormsi island and northeast of Hiiumaa.
Coordinates: 59 06.124, 23 01.751
Cultural monument reg. no: 27805,
Diving: suitable also for beginners under the instruction of a business operator that offers diving services or on the basis of a diving permit.

Source: Estonian National Heritage Board

Minesweeper „Shchit“ was built in 1916 in Russian-Baltic Shipyard in Tallinn, Estonia. In autumn 1914 the officers of the Baltic Fleet wanted to increase the number of ships suitable for sweeping. Until then, mine sweeps were usually installed on cargo or auxiliary vessels, which were actually not suitable for sweeping fairways efficiently. However, a smaller vessel was needed during wartime; one that was specially built for laying and, if necessary sweeping mines. The ship also had to have a small crew, because losing ships of this type on sea was inevitable because of its functions. In the event of an accident, losing a smaller ship would not be such a burden for the state’s economy. 

The minesweeper Shchit hit a mine laid by the Germans in Soela Strait on 6 December 1916. The naval mine exploded near the stern of the ship, after which she started to sink. According to the report of First Lieutenant G. Dombrovski, order and discipline were maintained on the ship. The crew didn’t panic and all orders of the commander were correctly complied with. The commander of the minesweeper Shchit conceded that saving the vessel was impossible, as the explosion had ripped off part of the Shchit stern. The commander therefore ordered the crew to leave the vessel, steam was released from the boilers and secret documents were handed over to the commander of the minesweeper Gruz. An attempt to tow the vessel was made at first, but it failed as the stern of the ship was stuck to the bottom of the sea and only the bow remained above water. The towing line was soon removed and the Shchit sank without any fatalities.

Source: Estonian National Heritage Board

Baltacar in trade fairs

Diving Club Barrakuuda and West-Estonia Tourism introduced diving options in Estonia and diving packages to wrecks to BALTIC UNDERWATER in several  trade fairs: 19-21. of January, 2018 MATKA in Helsinki, Finland; 9-11. of February, 2018 TOUREST in Tallinn; 7-17. of February, 2019 VENE in Helsinki and 15-17. of March, 2019 Dykmassan in Göteburg. Visitors got information about project Baltacar , Baltic Underwater Museum, diving to shipwrecks near Saaremaa and Hiiumaa islands as well as about diving packages.

Project “Baltic History beneath the Surface: Underwater Heritage Trails in situ and Online” (Baltacar), which received support from the Central Baltic Programme of INTERREG, aim is to demonstrate the huge tourism potential of the historical shipwrecks at the bottom of the Baltic Sea and to develop easy and convenient ways for dive tourists to visit unique and well preserved underwater sites.

The project will produce a network of wreck diving sites with underwater information boards and mooring buoys, and complemented by informational products (photos, videos, narratives and 3D models). With the creation of this tourist attraction we aim to enhance the attractiveness of the Baltic Sea destinations and increase the number of visits to our region.

The project activities will be conducted in the waters of Saaremaa (3 sites) and Hiiumaa (3 sites), Helsinki (Dive Park Gustav Adolf), Hanko (6 sites) and Dalarö Dive Park (3 sites).

Project Baltacar is a cooperation initiative between Sweden, Finland and Estonia to promote wreck diving in the Baltic Sea. We present a selection of the best diving destination wrecks in the three countries. 

The partners implementing the project are, Estonian National Heritage Board (EST), National Board of Antiquities (FIN), Swedish National Maritime Museums (SWE), Adrianto OÜ (EST), Aalto OY (FIN), Haninge Municipality (SWE), NGO West-Estonia Tourism (EST).

The project duration is 01.01.2017-31.12.2019 and is financed by INTERREG Central Baltic programme, ERDF, by 1.3 million €. 

Sille Roomets, Baltacar” project manager,
sille(at),  ph. +372 5871 6101