Military divers have returned to the waters of Newfoundland to complete the work they started two years ago: removing ammunition and explosives from ships that sank during World War II.
During the war, in order to prevent iron ore supplies from reaching the Allied forces, four ships were sunk by German U-boats off the coast of Bell Island in the Concept Bay of Newfoundland.
The unexploded ordnance on these ships remained intact for 76 years, until the Joint Atlantic Task Force performed a mission in July 2019 to dismantle 82 unexploded bombs and two boxes of bombs According to the Canadian Armed Forces, about half of the shells and ammunition came from the wreckage.
Now they come back to finish the work.
Surface weather and underwater visibility are usually a challenge for these operations, but so far, conditions have been good—in fact, better than good.
“So far, the visibility is very good,” First Class Non-commissioned Officer Evan Beaton told CBC Radio broadcast.
A team of 29 professional divers began work on July 11, and the goal is to complete the removal of ammunition by July 30, but changes in weather may delay this process.
Big Bang Query
Beaton said that most of the remaining explosives are stored in the ammunition cabinet on the ship, so they are not armed. But he said the risks associated with explosive weapons still exist.
“Normally, they must be fired from a weapon to be considered armed,” he explained. “However, we are taking all precautions and treat them as armed men… so this is definitely your idea.”
Underwater pollution can also make ammunition dangerous, and it is difficult to assess whether any ammunition can explode only from the appearance.
“Unless we use some type of X-ray machine there, you can’t say for sure,” Biton said. “That’s why we handle them very carefully.”
After the ammunition is removed from the water-brought to the surface and pulled out at Nagachi Port-it needs to be transported to a private quarry in Holyrood about 20 minutes away for dismantling.
A section of nearby Highway 62 will be closed to minimize traffic in the area during the controlled detonation period.
The shipwreck is a popular dive site, and any underwater stay may damage the ship and the local marine ecosystem.