Tall Ships Races with 50 classic vessels seeks to draw attention to Baltic Sea's alarming status

HELSINKI — Dozens of classic sailing vessels from 13 countries that are plying the Baltic Sea arrived at the Finnish capital on Thursday at the end of the first leg of the Tall Ships Races that began in the Lithuanian port city of Klaipeda in late June.

This year’s competition, with a total of 50 ships of different shapes and sizes, is themed around the alarming environmental status of the Baltic Sea, which is suffering from eutrophication — an excessive accumulation of nutrients that has led, among things, to the growth of harmful blue-green algae.

“The Baltic Sea isn’t doing well,” said CEO Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt of the Finland-based John Nurminen Foundation that supports projects protecting the shallow sea’s marine environment.

“It suffers from eutrophication and nature loss that are accelerated by climate change. But it’s not yet too late to save the Baltic Sea and its heritage for the future generations,” she said.

The international charity sailing race is normally held every four years but returns to the Baltic Sea after a seven-year hiatus because the planned 2021 competition was canceled due to COVID-19.

According to co-organizer Sail Training International, the race aims to teach the young global crews group dynamics while training them to handle the impressive old-school sailing ships, including some that are over a hundred years old.

One of vessels, the naval training vessel Guayas, sailed to the northern European waters from Ecuador in South America.

The 2024 competition sails between six Baltic Sea ports: Helsinki, Turku and Mariehamn in Finland, Tallinn in Estonia, Szczecin in Poland and Klaipeda in Lithuania.

Though a rather small sea internationally, the Baltic Sea is a major trade, passenger and military shipping route for the nine nations around it, including Russia, and has played a vital role in the history of northern European nations throughout the centuries.

“Helsinki is a maritime city and the Baltic Sea has shaped our southern coast and the history” of Finland, Helsinki Mayor Juhana Vartiainen said at the official welcoming ceremony aboard the elegant Polish training ship Dar Młodzieży.

“Sea has always been of vital importance to our city’s trade and an important transport route out to the world” from the Nordic nation of 5.6 million, he said.

A change from previous Tall Ships Races is that Russian vessels have been banned from taking part after Moscow invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

After Finland and Sweden joined NATO in 2023 and this year, respectively, Russia’s key port of St. Petersburg and its Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad are completely surrounded by members of the Western military alliance.

This year’s Tall Ships Race is set to end at the Polish seaport of Szczecin near the German border in early August.

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