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September 13, 2010

Underwater Timebombs: World War II bombs and munitions laying dormant on the sea floor


Last week, our CEO tweeted an interesting article (Why wartime wrecks are slicking time bombs), highlighting the impact of World War II on the oceans. According to the study by Trevor Gilbert and Dagmar Etkin, between 2.5 million tons and 20 million tons of oil are contained in the thousands of ships on the continent shelf of the oceans, just waiting to start leaking – Not good.  
It makes you wonder what else has been left behind, and what impact it will have on the already precarious state of the oceans…doesn’t it?
Well, we did a bit of research and it turns out some people have started digging into this issue. Over the summer, several French newspapers including Le Marin and Ouest France reported some bad news: hundreds of thousands of bombs, mines and munitions were dumped into the sea by European states at the end of World War II. Though the exact location (and description) of some are known (for example there are 35,000 tons of munitions less than a km away from a well frequented beach in Zeebrugge, Belgium) for most, there are but vague references to locations: somewhere in the Channel, in the Gulf of Biscay, in the Baltic Sea as well as in the Irish Sea. In some cases we don’t even know what is down there, and sites are simply listed as “unknown”
To date, no exhaustive study has been done on the impact of the chemicals from these weapons (mustard gas, mercury, led, phosphorate, nitrate or arsenic among many others) on marine life. But some are already warning that it could become a major ecological problem in the coming decades.
For more background, here is an interesting article from a few years ago on the “Rusting Timebomb in the Baltic.”
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