Offshore Wind Farms: Misfires and Chemical Weapons in the Polish Marine Areas -
Offshore Wind Farms: Misfires and Chemical Weapons in the Polish Marine Areas
Date of publication: 17.11.2021

‘Sites of dumping chemical weapons constitute scattered spot sources of contamination of unknown magnitude, which are difficult to control. Moreover, they have a negative and adverse impact on the economy, which makes the Baltic Sea less safe and potentially more expensive for investments.’ Authors of this article intentionally begin their analysis about physical obstacles that are faced by projects related to offshore wind farms in the Polish marine areas with one of the findings from the document entitled ‘Chemsea Findings’, being the outcome of the CHEMSEA project – search for and assessment of chemical munitions. The project has been described by the authors hereinbelow.

Where do chemical weapons come from on the seabed of the Baltic Sea?

Talking about physical obstacles that may effectively torpedo investments in OWFs in the Polish marine areas, one should consider chemical munitions and weapons, conventional munitions as well as hundredths of shipwrecks, being the remnants of the 2nd World War and the period of Cold War.

Figure 1 Some of the shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea. Source: ‘Preliminary Assessment of the Condition of the Environment of Seawaters of the Polish Zone of the Baltic Sea’, report for the European Commission by the Chief Environmental Protection Inspector, p. 289.
Figure 1 Some of the shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea. Source: ‘Preliminary Assessment of the Condition of the Environment of Seawaters of the Polish Zone of the Baltic Sea’, report for the European Commission by the Chief Environmental Protection Inspector, p. 289.

Data held by the Hydrographic Office of the Navy (Biuro Hydrograficzne Marynarki Wojennej (BHMW)) lead to inevitable conclusions that in the Polish marine areas there are more than 415 shipwrecks, including about 100 in the Bay of Gdańsk. All available knowledge and practice lead to assumptions, verging on certainty, that at least several dozen of them hold large volumes of fuel on-board, including some of it still present in the wrecks. The largest shipwrecks include: Wilhelm Gustloff, Steuben, Stuttgart, Goya, and Franken. Considering the specific hydrological conditions resulting from the fact that the Baltic Sea is practically a closed sea, most contaminations remain permanently in the Baltic Sea, and every leakage of fuel from remnants of shipwrecks causes ‘a local ecological disaster’.


According to the Potsdam Conference indicating that ‘Any weapons, munitions and means of waging war as well as any objects specialised in their production will be made available to the disposal of Allied states or be destroyed,’ after the end of the 2nd World War, states that belonged to the coalition fighting the Axis started to dump weapons and munitions, including chemical ones. After the 2nd World War, at least 40 thousand tonnes of chemical munitions were disposed of into the Baltic Sea, including about 13 thousand tonnes of chemical weapons. The dumping took place mostly in the Bornholm Deep, Little Belt, Gotland Trench, and the Gdańsk Deep (about 60 tonnes of chemical munitions containing mustard gas). Major problems in the identification and mitigation of hazards related to the occurrence of such weapons in the area of the Baltic Sea include:
- no competences and complete documentation that concerns the volume and sites of dumping chemical weapons;
- chemical weapons were dumped also during their transport to designated disposal zones. An additional problem is that cargos that were packed in wooden boxes could have drifted at long distances, which increases the area of their presence; and
- dumping sites located in the Baltic Sea were very often designated for dumping both chemical weapons and conventional munitions. Containers were dumped into water that included chemical weapons, armed bombs, and shells. This fact creates an additional hazard of explosion.

Figure 2 Sites of dumping and transport routes of chemical weapons. Source: ‘Chemsea Findings’ – final report of the CHEMSEA project
Figure 2 Sites of dumping and transport routes of chemical weapons. Source: ‘Chemsea Findings’ – final report of the CHEMSEA project

Additionally, the situation caused by hazards due to chemical weapons lying on the bed of the Baltic Sea is not improved by the official position of the Republic of Poland with regard to art. III section 2 of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 29 April 1997 (CWC Convention). The policy of the Republic of Poland to date regarding the application of the CWC Convention is aimed at showing that it does not apply to chemical weapons dumped before 1985. This approach (one should remember that according to art. III section 2 of the CWC Convention, Contracting States are free to apply provisions concerning the verification and destruction of chemical weapons contained in Schedule IV (A) of the CWC Convention) seems to be the product of positions of large states (Russia, Germany, and the United Kingdom), which do not want to accept responsibility for residues of chemical weapons dumped into the Baltic Sea after the 2nd World War and their potential reclamation.

Moreover, the Republic of Poland has not submitted a declaration in this respect so far, being concerned that placing such a declaration would be interpreted as accepting responsibility for chemical weapons dumped in the Polish marine areas. That would involve, among other, the necessity to start verifying and destroying chemical weapons, making relevant declarations and verifying such activities by OPCW – the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Threats related to hazardous materials on the seabed of the Baltic Sea

There is no doubt that shipwrecks sunk in the Baltic Sea that still contain oil products, chemical weapons, and conventional munitions may have direct impact on any and all activities of man at sea. First and foremost, such impact concerns crews of fish cutters, crews of vessels that carry out submarine engineering work, crews of floating vessels, port personnel who serve ships calling at ports, etc. With the progressing corrosion of shipwrecks, containers and barrels with chemical weapons and munitions and considering the increasing exploitation of the Baltic Sea resources, including in the context of projects such as Nord Stream II, Baltic Pipe and offshore wind farms, including in the Polish marine areas, there is a growing risk that harmful substances, such as fuels and oil substances, chemical weapons, and products of their decomposition, will leak into waters and seabed of the Baltic Sea and to organisms that live in it. There is also a growing risk of sudden leakage of such substances due to the collapse of such corroded shipwrecks and unsealing of containers with chemical weapons.

The Study of Development Conditions of the Polish Marine Areas together with spatial analyses states that munitions dumped into the Baltic Sea after the 2nd World War constitute a major problem, both for sea users and the environment. Findings of the Development Plan of Polish Marine Areas indicate that one should take into consideration existing hazards and delineate closed zones or zones of limited use in storage areas of dumped chemical weapons.

Any and all studies carried out before the start of investments in the Polish marine areas should include the search for potential elements of dumped munitions. Similar provisions are included, among other, in decisions on environmental conditions for investments related to OWFs in the Polish marine areas. In a part of that document entitled ‘Duties of an applicant with regard to measures that minimise and mitigate negative impact on the environment related to the possible discovery of military residues,’ there is the following provision: develop and implement procedures aimed at preventing accidents related to misfires, including but not limited to chemical weapons, at every stage of implementing a project. Such procedures are to include the on-going examinations of such objects in the course of geotechnical works and building work, first aid in case of contamination, determining communication and notice procedures, and finally removing contaminations from a floating vessel. The same procedures to a limited extent are to be developed for situations related to an incidental discovery of conventional military objects. As it is not possible to assess the type of discovered weapons, follow any and all precautions as with chemical weapons. Finding such objects is to be reported to the locally competent Director of the Maritime Office and services of the Navy concerned.

The analysis of the above provisions leads to the conclusions that, as usual, work involved in detection and mitigation of hazards related to chemical weapons in the Baltic Sea will involve ad hoc actions, according to the rule that ‘when a problem occurs, we will worry how to handle it’.

International initiatives

Considering the fact that chemical weapons and conventional munitions that lie on the bed of the Baltic Sea pose an international hazard, research projects have been initiated in order to study this issue in a systematic manner. The most important initiatives include:
- CHEMSEA (Chemical Munitions Search and Assessment) – as a part of this project, dumped munitions were searched for and identified and their technical condition was assessed in three areas of dumping and probable dumping of chemical weapons, namely Deeps: Bornholm, Gotland and Gdańsk; moreover, response plans were created in case of contact with chemical munitions. In the Polish marine areas, as a part of this project, five areas were identified where there is a risk of contact with dumped chemical weapons. The five areas include: the frontier with the Danish economic zone (near Bornholm), Dziwnów, Kołobrzeg, Darłowo, and Hel. According to findings of the project, as minimum sulphur mustard and arsenic hydride occur in the Gdańsk Deep and the Słupsk Valley;
- MODUM (Towards the Monitoring Of Dumped Munitions Threat) – within this project monitoring has been recommended of dumping areas of chemical weapons. The monitoring process has to take account of the fact that munitions may lie even 30 km from dumping sites; it is not possible to describe dumping sites as local risks; dumped chemical munitions have not been monitored so far and constitute a time bomb; monitoring concerns very dynamically changing spaces, which is caused, among other, by sea currents and sedimentation; considering the fact that the condition of chemical weapons and munitions changes with time due to progressing corrosion as well as physical movements and collisions, release of chemical weapons may occur in unpredictable doses, at unknown and unpredictable times; and
- DAIMON (Decision Aid for Marine Munitions) – as a part of this project the following findings were presented: to mitigate environmental effects of the spread of chemical weapons near sites of their disposal, an adequate strategy should be adopted that includes: the discontinuation of commercial fishery, mostly trawling, in recognised dumping sites of chemical weapons; estimating costs of recovering and destroying chemical munitions; alternatively, leaving chemical munitions and establishing a monitoring programme that ensures the condition in which environmental effects of chemical weapons are not exacerbated; considering filling up or concreting shipwrecks recognised as dangerous ones or containing chemical weapons.

Despite access to all information described in this article that concerns the occurrence of chemical weapons on the seabed of the Baltic Sea, neither the maritime administration (the Minister competent for maritime economy and directors of maritime offices) nor the environmental protection administration (the Minister of the Environment and the Chief Inspector of Environmental Protection) have recognised, and consequently have not counteracted effectively, hazards that result from the presence of chemical weapons and conventional munitions in the Baltic Sea.

NIK about chemical weapons in the Baltic Sea

Similar conclusions about omissions of authorities concerned were formulated by the Supreme Audit Office (NIK – Najwyższa Izba Kontroli) in its inspection report from 2020. The inspection concerned counteracting hazards that result from the presence of hazardous materials on the seabed of the Baltic Sea. NIK criticised the failure to take decisions by maritime administration and environmental protection authorities that should prevent hazards resulting from the occurrence of hazardous materials in the Baltic Sea. Despite findings of international research projects indicating that in the Polish marine areas there are chemical weapons and in spite of information from domestic research institutes pointing to hazards due to leakage of fuel from shipwrecks, authorities of maritime administration and environmental protection have failed to carry out an analysis of hazards due to dumped hazardous materials. This concerns in particular the failure to carry out the complete study of the Polish marine areas in terms of sites where chemical weapons and shipwrecks occur that pose a serious hazard to the marine environment. As regards crisis management, despite having information about sites where hazardous materials are present, no sufficient measures were taken to remove them.

Actions were limited to makeshift measures in areas where projects were carried out related to navigation, and the objective of such activities was to identify obstacles in order to ensure the safety of navigation and the execution of projects. Although Polish marine areas were monitored using aerial reconnaissance and analyses of satellite photos in order to detect potential contaminations on the sea surface, no sufficient resources or measures were available to counteract hazards that result from the presence of oil products on the seabed, including materials in bunkers of shipwrecks or chemical weapons. The discovered omissions of maritime and environmental protection administration resulting from the failure to recognise competences given to them by applicable laws as well as the shortage of adequate resources and equipment, increased the risk of ecological disasters due to the release of chemical weapons or fuels from shipwrecks as a consequence of the progressing corrosion of chemical weapons and wrecks on the seabed of the Baltic Sea and the increasing exploitation of marine resources.

It is apparent that the Supreme Audit Office has torn to pieces the actions, or rather their lack, by authorities of public administration concerned.

Latest measures concerning hazardous materials in the Baltic Sea

The international community has recently become more aware of the problem and hazards that result from residues of the 2nd World War on the seabed of the Baltic Sea. Actions presented below are the result of such growing awareness.

On 27 April 2021, the European Parliament adopted the Resolution on chemical residues in the Baltic Sea. In its document the European Parliament, among other:
1) underlines that the environmental and health dangers posed by the munitions disposed of in the Baltic Sea after the Second World War is not only a regional, European issue, but a serious global problem with unpredictable short- and long-term transboundary effects;
2) urges the international community to embrace a spirit of cooperation and genuine solidarity to step up its monitoring of dumped munitions in order to minimise the possible risks for the marine environment and activities;
3) urges all sides party to classified information about the dumping activities and their exact locations to declassify this information and to allow the countries affected, the Commission and the European Parliament to access it as a matter of urgency;
4) calls on the Commission and the Joint Programming Committee of Interreg Baltic Sea Region to secure adequate financing for research and actions required to resolve the dangers posed by the munitions dumped in the Baltic Sea;
5) calls on the Commission to engage all the relevant EU agencies and institutions, including the European Defence Agency, to utilise all the available resources and to make sure that the problem will be reflected in all the relevant EU policies and programming processes, including the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Maritime Security Strategy Action Plan;
6) asks the Commission to devote concerted efforts to tackling pollution in the Baltic Sea and to foster all types of regional, national and international cooperation to this end, including through its partnership with NATO;
7) calls on the Commission, for the purposes of its zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment, to establish an expert group with the Member States affected and other stakeholders and organisations, tasked with the following mandate:
- studying and mapping the exact locations of contaminated areas;
- proposing suitable environmentally friendly and cost-effective solutions for monitoring and cleaning - the pollution with the ultimate aim of removing or fully neutralising hazardous materials where extraction is impossible;
- developing reliable decision-making support tools;
- conducting an awareness-raising campaign to inform the groups affected (such as fishers, local residents, tourists and investors) of the potential health and economic risks; and
- developing emergency response guidelines for environmental disasters.

Another action that is related to the problems of toxic weapons present in the Baltic Sea is the update of BSAP – The Baltic Sea Action Plan, signed in Lubeck on 20 October 2021. BSAP is a strategic programme of HELCOM measures and actions for achieving the good condition of the marine environment. At the conference of the Helsinki Commission that preceded the update of BSAP, special attention was paid to toxic weapons present on the seabed of the Baltic Sea. As a result, the updated BSAP includes the following provisions:
- developing a regional strategic approach and, based on this approach, an action plan for HELCOM work on hazardous substances until 2024;
- creating domestic programmes including in particular hazardous substances that are not adequately regulated in other policies;
- submitting to HELCOM until 2023 the most possibly accurate description of planned and implemented measures aimed at limiting the release of hazardous substances to the environment, including knowledge available on their effects;
- establishing a mechanism of managing a list of priority HELCOM substances starting from 2025 and reacting to results of screening tests and assessments that point to regional challenges for the environment of the Baltic Sea and contaminations that cause growing concerns; and
- from 2028 on, developing further adequate biological monitoring of effects of hazardous substances in order to facilitate the reliable assessment of the ecosystem condition.

It is evident that the problem of residues of the 2nd World War in the Baltic Sea is more and more noticed in the international environment and organizations directly involved in the use of the Baltic Sea resources and the protection of the welfare of this marine environment notice the growing need to take actions to neutralise the hazard. The question is whether this is not too late?


The problem of residues of toxic weapons present in the Baltic Sea, being remnants of the 2nd World War, is an issue that has a direct impact on a final success of investments in OWFs in the Polish marine areas. Authors of this article are positive that the threat related to hazardous materials in the Baltic Sea will occur in the direct vicinity of such projects sooner or later.

It is high time for the Polish state to take effective actions to resolve this urgent problem, which are very much delayed in view of the pompous announcements of launching OWFs in the Polish marine areas about 2026.

Funds that enable to control this hazard should not pose a problem, in particular considering the political directions of the European Union such as the Integrated Marine Policy of EU, the Strategy of the European Union for the Region of the Baltic Sea, the European Green Order and the Interreg Baltic Sea Region.

If the approach of turning a blind eye to the problem or always talking about the insufficient competences of authorities concerned is continued, with the simultaneous lack of any activity that could change this situation, this will prove sooner rather than later disastrous for the whole region of the Baltic Sea and investment plans into the Polish offshore wind energy.

Mateusz Romowicz – Legal Adviser
mgr Przemysław Niewiński – Lawyer, Consultant of the Law Firm

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