TALLINN - A record number of explosive devices and seven shipwrecks were found off the Estonian coast during this year’s international minehunting exercise, Operation Open Spirit.
The exercise, which ended on Friday, saw 15 countries come together to help clear the area of historic mines left over from the First and Second World Wars.
In total, 200 naval explosives and 10 other devices were found by 19 ships and seven teams of divers; 64 of these were neutralized.
Lieutenant Aivo Vahemets of the Estonian Navy said the haul had not been a surprise to the team.
He told The Baltic Times: “It just shows the great work the international team did and we were also fortunate with the weather – almost all days were suitable for the operations.”
Previously undiscovered wrecks of a submarine, Second World War era plane, a cargo ship, a landing craft along with two others yet to be identified were also discovered by the operation mostly around theSaaremaa and Muhu islands. Wreckage of a sailing ship was found in the Bay of Tallinn.
The two-week exercise saw more than 700 naval personnel scan the Bay of Tallinn, the Irbe Strait, the coast of Muhu and Saaremaa islands and the Gulf of Tallinn for devices laying dormant on the sea bed.
They came from the United States, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada, Lithuania, Latvia and Norway. Troops from Poland, France, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Denmark and the United Kingdom worked alongside.
Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One was also involved in the operation, which was organized by the Estonian Navy this year.
Commander of the navy Captain Sten Sepper, who led the operation, thanked everyone involved in the operation for their “exemplary work”.
He added that the operation, in addition to finding and defusing explosives, had shown up important details of the seabed that would enable the Estonian Navy to respond quickly if necessary.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of Open Spirit which started in 1995 with Swedish help.
The operation takes place annually in the Baltics and is hosted by Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania each year.
Next year Open Spirit will be held in Lithuania.
The Baltic has seen an increase in military activity in recent months, and Estonia, Latvia and Lithunia have all expressed concern regarding Russia’s presence in the region after the annexation of the Black Sea penininsula of Crimea last year.
Incidents have included naval ships and aircraft getting closer than usual to the counties boarders.
In October last year, the Swedish military diployed 200 troops, minesweepers ships and helicopters after being tipped off about a suspected Russian submarine lurking in their waters off the coast of Stockholm.
Last month Estonia held Operation Hedgehog, the biggest military exercise in its history with 13,000 Estonian soldiers and 1,000 NATO troops taking part near the north-eastern town of Lasna.
Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs Eoin Micheal McNamara said the importance of Operation Open Spirit this year should not be overstated in relation to “harder” NATO operations in the Baltic.
He told the Baltic Times: “However, with operations such as Open Spirit, networking circles open up between policy-makers and military officials; the contacts gained can grant civilian and military policy officials opportunities as they seek to negotiate wider NATO policy in the region as time goes on.
“Albeit a “soft” mission, it also granted opportunities for greater security sector familiarity between Sweden and Finland, both OOS contributing countries but not NATO members, with the Baltic states and other NATO allies.”