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Grigory Pasko: Traveling the Nord Stream, Part XII

The Pipeline in a “Communal Apartment” By Grigory Pasko, journalist I set off from Travemünde to Helsinki on a Finnlines ferry boat. This ferry, I happened to notice, is used primarily by Russians who come to Germany to buy used cars, ship them up to Finland, and then drive them into Russia from there for resale. But that’s a topic for another day. Today we’ll talk about something else. The “Conditions Governing the Transport of Passengers” of this company, it says: “Finnlines reserves the right to alter prices and schedules without advance notification. Departure and arrival times and the length of the journey can not be guaranteed.”

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Photo of the Travemünde quay by Grigory Pasko

When I read this, it was as if though I’d returned to the times of my youth, when I often had the chance to go to sea. The most tiresome thing before the start of any voyage is the time you spend waiting for permission to leave port. The operations control services, as a rule, are overly cautious. But you can understand why – the sea deals ruthlessly with carelessness. Which is why the company writes “can not be guaranteed”. They guarantee to provide you with a life vest, and nothing more. Even the generally calm Baltic Sea can be dangerous and even deadly: let’s recall the tragic fate of the ferry «Estonia» that sank together with its passengers in 1994. This despite the fact that a modern ferry is much more than a floating hotel. It is an intricate complex of navigational, technical, and shipbuilding systems in which everything is subordinated to one goal – a safe voyage. And still, tragedies are possible. Because you can’t make any guarantees. And yet the planners of the Nord Stream gas pipeline are trying to convince us that everything has been taken into consideration, everything will be safe. The designers of the Chernobyl nuclear power station were just as convinced, by the way. Of course on can build, and most likely one should. But only if one observes the principle of the sea – it is better to be overly cautious than to celebrate your lack of concern. …We finally left port after a three hour delay. Only three; the previous ferry had departed 12 hours late. My point here is that the construction of a gas pipeline along the bottom of the Baltic will doubtless not be nearly as painless as the heads of the Nord Stream concern imagine it will be. Even if the public and politics don’t manage to amend the project, the sea most certainly will.

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Photo of ferry leaving Travemünde by Grigory Pasko

From antiquity right on down to the 1600s, the Baltic was known as the Varangian [or Viking] Sea. This is the world’s second-largest body of brackish water, a unique mixture of sea water and fresh water. Dictionaries write that this body of water is particularly sensitive to ecological changes in consequence of the long period of replacement of the fresh water (around 30 years), which is due to its semi-closed, narrow outlets. Scientists point out that the slow exchange of water in the Baltic Sea is the reason why this interior sea is particularly sensitive to pollution. Pollutants that are flushed into the sea remain there for a long time, accumulating on the sea bed and in living organisms. In the year 2004, the Baltic Sea was declared to be a vulnerable marine region. Nine states have access to the Baltic Sea: Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. The route of the pipeline with a length of 1200 kilometers through the aquatic basin of the Baltic Sea looks natural for such a large project, in the opinion of the planners. At the same time, the pipeline will pass through the Finnish, Swedish, Danish, and German economic zones, as well as through 16 undersea cables, dozens of sunken ships, and thousands of sunken rounds of ordnance of the times of the Second World War. (The opinion of a representative of Wingas about the munitions on the bottom of the Baltic is interesting: “We”, Hans-Georg Egelkamp, the person responsible for the route at the firm Wingas, is convinced, “will deal with the bombs, grenades, and other explosive materials with maximum caution, most likely moving them aside, and not bringing them ashore.”).

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The ferry route from Travemünde to Helsinki largely parallels the route of the proposed Nord Stream gas pipeline

It seems that the specialists do understand after all that the laying of pipes through the sea will, of course, cause damage to the environment. For example, at the coast of Finland, in order for the pipeline not to sag, whole reef regions are going to have to be flattened. Let us allow that you can move something, flatten something, lift or lower something on the open sea… But what about the 12-mile economic zone? For example, in the vicinity of Lubmin, the steel pipe with a diameter of 1420 millimeters is going to have to be laid through several nature preserve zones. In so doing, they’re going to have to deepen the Greifswald lagoon – the depth of which comprises a mere three meters – so that a pipe-laying ship can work there. Clearly this is interference with the ecosystem of the bay. Another question that is of no small importance in connection with the construction of the pipeline is that of commercial fishing. I observed fishing boats of various countries for the entire length of the ferry journey (indeed, the Baltic is quite “densely populated” with ships). Construction of the Nord Stream pipeline, in the opinion of the authors of ecological inquiries, could have a negative impact on the spawning grounds of commercially important varieties of fish. In response to this, the Nord Stream company has promised (read this carefully!): to gather the necessary information and draw maps of the spawning grounds of the fish, conduct research into the catches of various kinds of fish in the Baltic Sea with the aim of assessing their economic significance; to conduct research into the types, sizes, and principles of use of fishing gear and the possibility of it being damaged from contact with the gas pipeline; to assess the risk of damage to individual fishing enterprises. I’m curious – does anybody seriously think that Nord Stream is going to do all that? This after the senior partner of the concern, the company «Gazprom», hasn’t even managed to build roads and a garbage dump during the course of several years in the Russian Babayevo! A garbage dump – that’s mere kopeks for the gas monopolist. The fishing business in the Baltic with the problems of Greifswald Bay and the nature preserves are going to cost more. Just conducting “research into the catches of various kinds of fish with the aim of assessing their economic significance” alone is something entire research institute would require YEARS to do! Apparently, at the company Nord Stream they know the saying of the ancient sages: if you can’t do something, at least promise. So here they are, promising…

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Photo of Helsinki harbor from the ferry by Grigory Pasko

…It was on a gray and rainy morning that our ferry boat approached the capital of Finland – Helsinki. Dozens of islands escorted us on our way into the harbour. By the way, the question of the Baltic islands and their feathered population is yet another problem for the gas pipeline. So it turns out that the entire routing of the pipeline is one continuous problem? Our ferry docked three hours late. They’re promising to build the pipeline in three years. I’m curious – by how much will this schedule get delayed? And don’t the recent efforts by Russia and «Gazprom» to accelerate the progress of projects for southern gas pipelines clear evidence that the North European Gas Pipeline may never come about?