TALLINN - An operation to help clear the Baltic Sea of explosive material ended this week, with more than 75 unexploded mines and two aircraft detected in the Baltic Sea. The mines were detonated underwater, creating a series of spectacular explosions described by one onlooker as "something out of the movies." Navy ships from across the world participated in the operation, called Open Spirit 2006, which ran from Aug. 29 - Sept. 13 along the northern coast and south of Saaremaa.
An estimated 80,000 mines were planted in the Baltic Sea during the first and second world wars. There have been two previous Open Spirit clearance operations in recent years yielding a total of 151 mines.
Defense Forces spokesman Andres Sang said the mines remained a deadly hazard for fishermen and boat operators.
"Although their fuses are not active, the explosive material is still there," Sang said. "If somebody happens to touch them, they can explode. This could occur if a fisherman catches a mine in their nets, or the ice brings one to the shore."
Although there were no recent cases of mine accidents in Estonia, three Dutch fishermen were killed when a mine became caught in their nets and exploded on deck.
"Fortunately, we have not had any accidents, but this kind of thing can occur here," Sang said.
Navy staff used unmanned submarines to search for the mines, which were then detonated remotely. Those that exploded in shallow water sent a plume of water into the air.
"If the mines are in deep sea, then it's not so spectacular, but if it is in shallow water, it's like something out of the movies," Sang said.
Open Spirit 2006 was hailed as "one of the biggest Naval Mine Counter-Measures" in the Baltic Sea region this year.
A total of 26 vessels, four staff support ships, four drones and hundreds of staff took part. Participating nations included Belgium, France, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Canada also sent personnel to observe the operation.
Belgium mine hunters proved to be the most successful, discovering and exploding 21 mines, while the Germans detonated 18.
The operation was temporarily disrupted by heavy winds, which forced the ships to take shelter in nearby harbors for one day.
Divers also located two objects believed to be aircraft dating back to the wartime era.
One aircraft was discovered to the east of Naisaar Island in the Bay of Tallinn, and another off the coast of the island of Abruka, near Saaremaa. The origin of the aircraft could not be detected, and navy officials suggested that military historians might be interested in conducting further research on the sunken planes.