Company polluting Gulf of Tallinn despite fines

Laevaremondifirma Netaman töölised.

PHOTO: Keskkonnainspektsioon

There is a popular swimming spot on the Paljassaare peninsula in Tallinn. Pikakari beach, located next to a Natura2000 area.

The peninsula is also home to Netaman Repair Group OÜ that has been polluting the Gulf of Tallinn for years. Even though the company that has a monthly turnover of a million euros and 160 employees has been fined, the sums are trifling. “They just pay the fines and carry on,” said Mehis Rump, CEO of neighboring company Boat Storage.

Netaman has been the target of complaints over pollution for some time. “We started receiving more complains in 2016-2017. That is when we inspected the company and brought proceedings,” said investigator for the Estonian Environmental Inspectorate Tarmo Tehva.

The company seemingly complies with regulations but has found a clever way to bypass them. Netaman has been issued two permits: an air pollution permit and a special use of water permit.

The two permits conflict. If the special use of water permit prohibits allowing pollutants to come into contact with water, the air pollution permit allows up to 10,000 tons of solid particles to be emitted a year. The latter inevitably fall into the water as ships are repaired.

“Old paint is removed with a sand blaster and it all ends up in the sea,” Rump explained. He added that the submerged parts of ships are covered with toxic paints that keeps organic material from building up. Rump has seen blotches of the paint floating on the sea and been forced to repaint his company’s boats and cars after they have come into contact with Netaman Group’s paint dust.

Netaman’s activity license prohibits the company from cleaning and painting hulls without the use of protective tarpaulin covers. The inspectorate’s drone footage clearly shows how the company’s nets have been loosely hung around the dock and have zero protective effect.

The company also works on large vessels that barely fit in its dock around which tarpaulin covers cannot be installed.

The watchdog has fined the company twice – €1,800 and €20,000 – while it has not sparked any visible change in how the firm operates. “It seems that business interests outweigh fines,” Mehis Rump said.

“It is cheaper to damage the environment than it is to avoid it,” said Kaupo Heinma from the environment ministry.

Owner and head of Netaman Repair Group Aleksey Aleksandrov and everyone else at the company refused to give investigative journalism program “Radar” a comment.