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Vrak investigates Vesta on the Uppland Coast

Maritime archaeologists at Vrak were recently tasked by the county administrative board to locate and document a number of shipwrecks at Gräsö in northern Uppland. The area is known for its many shipwrecks due to the abundance of rocks and skerries around Gräsö. To the north and east lie open seas, and Gräsö has high exposure to unpredictable weather. One of the shipwrecks we set out to find and document was called Vesta.

The museum recently used sonar to map the area north of Gräsö and Örskär where, according to our sources, Vesta was believed to lie. We located the wreck, conducted two dives, and photographed and filmed the wreck. The reason why we received this assignment is because ships that wrecked after 1850 can be declared ancient monuments if certain criteria are met. For example, the remains might have a high cultural-heritage value, be generally well preserved, be representative of their time or offer a popular diving destination. The location and position of the remains must also be determined.

The survey indicated where Vesta was located, and the sonar maps and dives gave us enough information to be able to assess its condition. The survey was carried out together with the Umeå Marine Sciences Centre.

About the history of Vesta

Vesta was built in 1889 in Newcastle, and measured about 67 metres. She was bought by Finska Ångfartygs AB, a Finnish steamship company. During the Finnish Civil War, the ship fell victim to an attack by the Reds in the port of Mäntyluoto.

During World War II, when Finland made peace with the Soviet Union and instead ended up at war with its former ally Germany, a gun battle broke out with captured Germans on board the Vesta. However, the Germans were outmanned.

On 13 January 1945, the ship departed Norrköping with a crew of 15 men and three women, carrying 1,123 tonnes of wheat for transport to Helsinki, Finland. Vesta lacked shifting boards that help prevent loose bulk cargo from shifting when the ship heels. Wheat was considered particularly dangerous to transport without such protection. Vesta’s commander was reportedly warned about leaving port with such risky cargo and the absence of shifting boards in the holds.

At midnight, the ship was somewhere between Örskär and Argos Grund. It began to heel in the rough seas, and the loose grains of wheat shifted so much that the ship took on a heavy list. They tried, in vain, to right the list and soon realised that the ship was about to capsize.

The commander gave the order to abandon ship. After much effort, they managed to launch the port-side lifeboat and three men and a woman managed to climb into it. At the same time, six men managed to climb up on a life raft. After listing four times or so, the raft floated ashore on Norra Gåsgrundet where it was discovered by reconnaissance aircraft. The destroyer Vidar made its way to the scene and found the raft, with three men still alive. The three of them had become frozen in the raft and had to be pried loose.

Early in the morning, a lifeboat drifted ashore at the western tip of Örskär. On board were four people, three men and one woman. One of the men made his way to the lighthouse on the island to look for help. Both lighthouse and military personnel followed the man back to the lifeboat where the other three were found. One of the men died shortly afterwards from his injuries. The others said that they had come from the Finnish steamer Vesta, which a few hours earlier had capsized between Argos Grund and Örskär. The three men, together with the three who came ashore on Örskär in the lifeboat, were the only surviving crew members.

The wreck of Vesta was discovered in 1992 at a depth of nearly 40 metres. It was exceptionally preserved at the time.