Rov Sukeltaja Lepola
A coast guard diver and the diving robot ROV on the deck of the patrol boat. Photo: Marcus Lepola

New 18th century shipwrecks found near Kotka

Archaeology, Maritime Heritage

Coast guard divers have found three wrecks in the Gulf of Finland with the help of researchers from the Finnish Heritage Agency. The vessels were probably sunk in the battles of Svensksund in 1788–90. These wrecks will help paint a clearer picture of what happened in the Russo-Swedish War of 1788-90.

Looking for a galley – finding a scuttled frigate

Researchers from the Finnish Heritage Agency chose a few known wrecks as training locations for a diving camp organised for coast guard divers. In addition to diving, the participants probed the areas that might contain undiscovered wrecks according to the Finnish Heritage Agency.

The exercise yielded an unexpected result, as the divers found two previously undiscovered wrecks to the east of Tiutinen island. The wrecks were discovered by using a side scan sonar and the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) diving robot.

“I sent the divers out to look for a galley that had sunk around here according to sources. Instead, they found a frigate scuttled by the Swedes,” says Project Researcher Marcus Lepola from the Maritime Museum of Finland. He has been researching known wrecks around Kotka and looking for locations where undiscovered wrecks may lie on a grant awarded by the Alfred Kordelin Foundation for the Svensksund AD 1790 project.

According to sources, Swedish Lieutenant Nils Bruncrona scuttled the frigate to use it as a blockship on the eve of the first battle of Svensksund in 1789. The images taken by the camera in the ROV show the holes made with an axe on the side of the vessel and the hull filled with rocks. At least six vessels were scuttled in the bay and the narrows to form blocks during the battles. Only this one is still intact and in place. The others have been broken and dredged away.

There were more surprises

“I was convinced that the galley would still be in the area, and I sent a group to a different location close by,” Lepola recounts.

This time, too, the divers found something they weren’t supposed to: a 20-metre wooden vessel. Archival sources indicate that a Russian vessel had sunk near the location of the wreck during the first battle of Svensksund. Researchers think this is that wreck, but more research is needed.

In addition to these new finds, the coast guard examined the surroundings of the badly damaged St.Nikolai wreck. A 15-metre wooden structure was discovered near the known wreck, and this structure was now confirmed as a separate vessel. Earlier, the wooden structures were assumed to have originated with the St. Nikolai wreck.

The galley remained undiscovered.

Svensksund events to be exhibited at Maritime Centre Vellamo

These wrecks are located very close to residential areas, and some ruins of fortifications that were built after the battles of Svensksund are still present on the nearby island of Tiutinen.

“People are surrounded by history here,” Lepola says.

The newly-discovered wrecks shed some light on the details of the first battle of Svensksund. A lot of contradictory information is available on the progress of the battle, but these wrecks are expected to set the record straight.

A digital presentation will be prepared on select Svensksund wrecks. The presentation will be part of the shared Svensksund exhibition of the museums of Maritime Centre Vellamo – the Maritime Museum of Finland and Kymenlaakso Museum. The exhibition on the sea battles and sea fortress of Svensksund is scheduled to open in May 2020.

The Coast Guard and the Finnish Heritage Agency in cooperation

The Gulf of Finland Coast Guard District organised a diving camp outside Kotka towards the end of May. The camp was organised in a sea area with many wrecks from the Russo-Swedish War of 1788–90. That is why the camp was organised in cooperation with the Finnish Heritage Agency. Project researcher Marcus Lepola from the Maritime Museum of Finland and marine archaeologist, intendant Päivi Pihlanjärvi from the Finnish Heritage Agency acted as experts in finding suitable diving locations.

The Finnish Heritage Agency thanks the Coast Guard for their cooperation and help with photographing the wrecks as well as the Alfred Kordelin Foundation for funding the Svensksund research.

 

Further information:

Researcher Marcus Lepola, Maritime Museum of Finland, tel. +358 (0)295 33 6500, marcus.lepola@kansallismuseo.fi

Intendant Päivi Pihlanjärvi, Finnish Heritage Agency, tel. +358 (0)295 33 6209, paivi.pihlanmaki@museovirasto.fi

Alfred Kordelin Foundation

2 Rov Kuva Lepola Web
2 Rov Kuva Lepola Web
The video taken by the ROV shows a hole in the side of the blockship. Photo: Marcus Lepola
3 Mahd Kaleeri Lepola Web
3 Mahd Kaleeri Lepola Web
An image of the possibly Russian vessel taken by the side scan sonar. Photo: Marcus Lepola