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Wrecks of the world in the spotlight

15 October 2015

The third edition of the international conference Wrecks of the World was held this week in Gothenburg. The conference focused on different takes on shipwreck risk assessment.

Chalmers University of Technology was host for the conference which took place at Lindholmen Science Park, and some 70 participants from all over the world attended. Speakers came from academia, governmental organizations, companies and also non-profit organisations, which resulted in a very broad take on the subject of shipwreck risk assessment.
Starting of the day was Dagmar Schmidt Etkin from the Environmental Research Consulting in the USA, who was hosting the first two Wrecks of the World (WOW) conferences. In the beginning of the 21th century she made an analysis summarising 8500 large shipwrecks around the world which potentially contained oil and/or chemical hazard, which was presented to American governments and others at a big meeting. 
- People got more or less shocked, and it was like it all was too big to take in so they stuck their heads in the sand, Dagmar Schmidt Etkin said.
It took a while before the subject could be raised again, but after organizing the two first WOW conferences she feels that things are now going in the right direction.

Other overviews on different aspects of assessments were given by Deborah French McCay from RPS Applied Science Associates, USA, who talked about how we need a comprehensive approach to risk analysis of sunken shipwrecks, and by Nikolaos P. Ventikosf from the National Technical University of Athens, who talked about the need for prioritisation of shipwrecks to work with first and to do that one need to do analyses of both consequences and risks.
Hanna Landqvist from Chalmers gave a brief report about VRAKA, a risk assessment method for potentially polluting shipwrecks. It's being evaluated by HELCOM to become the standard risk assessment tool for the Baltic Sea, and the Swedish Maritime Administration wants to use it to pinpoint the potentially most harmful shipwrecks along the coasts of Sweden. Ulf Olsson from the Swedish Maritime Administration talked more about that project, where they went from 7000 objects to 5000 shipwrecks to 2700 of those to focus on and eventually ending up at 31 selected shipwrecks.
- We have now closely investigated 4 of these wrecks to give us an idea of the status. The report from this investigation will be presented on the 31th of October. It's an important job that has been done, Ulf Olsson said.

Around 60 persons from all over the world took part in the conference.

Another area that several speakers on the conference were talking about was old shipwrecks from the World War I and II, which in several cases are containing chemical weapons like mustard gas and others, and in several occasions chemical weapons were dumped at sea. A number projects around the world are looking into how one can assess and possibly remove these.
New technical solutions that could improve the work with shipwrecks was also presented, for example Joakim Holmlund from MMT showed the use of Photogrammetry, where you can scan and make a picture of the wreck and also help to judge how environmentally harmful it can be. 
The problem with the lack of a uniform international law when it comes to shipwrecks was highlighted by a couple of speakers. One of them was Mikis Tsimplis from the University of Southampton in the UK:
- There’s no internationally accepted definition of a ship, and therefore there’s no general definition of wrecks, he said.
However, the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal Wrecks was implemented this year by the IMO, and the hope is that this will improve the work with shipwrecks around the world.

Jørgen Kamp, MSc, Denmark and Lindsey Arison, Institute for Sea-Disposed Chemical Weapons, USA, discussed WWI and II shipwrecks with the audience
Lisa Symons from Americas' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in front of a map with all 20 000 vessels, small and large ones, that are to be found on the bottom around the US coast.

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