Two days ago I wrote about the discovery of a urinal used by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, now at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. It's in the wreck of a German cruiser sunk in 1915 by a British submarine, which sank several other ships during its war patrols there.
Now comes news that salvage operations in areas like that - to say nothing of fishing, drilling, or the laying of undersea pipelines and cables - may be much more hazardous than I'd realized. The Local's German edition reports:
More than 1.6 million tonnes of old war munitions remain at the bottom of the Baltic and North Seas in German waters, creating an ever-present danger for fishermen or workers laying pipeline in the region.
A government-sponsored working group produced the new report “Contaminated Munitions Sites in the Ocean,” which identified dozens of sites where large numbers of dangerous items, mostly from the World War II era, have been dumped. It said the problem is most severe in the North Sea, where at least 1.3 million tonnes of conventional and chemical munitions are at the bottom of the sea.
Officials warned that the full extent of the problem is unclear, particularly in the Baltic Sea, because many large munitions dumps have yet to be identified.
“Up to now, only a small portion of the affected areas are known,” said Tobias Knobloch of the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency, adding that even documents showing where munitions might be located have large gaps in them.
In some cases, particularly in waters off Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, data and facts on dumping were apparently never even written down.
There's more at the link.
The problem is compounded by the fact that both the Baltic and the North Seas are relatively shallow, so that the explosives lie close enough to the surface to pose a real hazard. A similar problem exists off many parts of the US coastline, too, where surplus military munitions were dumped overboard after the cessation of hostilities in more than one war. Accidents with munitions barges have caused further problems, such as the one I wrote about last year, which delayed construction of a waste transfer station near New York City. Even worse, chemical weapons have been dumped at sea in wholesale quantities, sometimes causing mass casualties to marine life.
What bugs me is that so little has been done to rectify the problem. Ssince we know it exists, why hasn't someone somewhere put his or her mind to the problem, and figured out how best to deal with it? Instead, it seems to be handled on a piecemeal basis, dealing with specific problems as they arise, but leaving untold millions of tons of ordnance down there where it can kill or maim people who come across it unexpectedly. That's not a very comforting thought . . .