Status: 22/09/2023, 04:46 a.m.
By: Nadja Zinsmeister
In the depths of the North Sea and Baltic Sea, there are a total of 1.6 million tons of old ammunition, which pose a danger. There are problems with salvage.
Kiel - explosives, ammunition, weapons. There are around 1.6 million tonnes of ammunition on the seabed of the North Sea and Baltic Sea, most of which came from targeted sinking by the Allies after the end of the Second World War. Despite decades in the water, the ammunition is still dangerous, both for the environment and for humans. The salvage turns out to be difficult.
"We must have driven more than 80 ammunition objects that would have lifted this ship out of the water and potentially broken it," says geologist Jens Greinert from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel to the German Press Agency as he stands on a ship in the Bay of Kiel. This is where the ammunition dumping area Kolberger Heide is located. "And potentially we are standing here over six ground mines with 500 kilograms of explosives."
Explosion risk: Old ammunition in the North Sea and Baltic Sea could be fatal
With him on the ship is Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke. The recovery of old ammunition from the seas is one of their political goals. But this is exactly what is proving difficult, because some of the ammunition can probably no longer be retrieved from the North Sea or Baltic Sea. According to Lemke, many parts are already too rusty. "But that makes it all the clearer that we have a time problem."
Even for experts, it is not easy to search the bottom of the sea for ammunition. (Symbolic image) © IMAGO/imageBROKER/Andrey Nekrasov
The ammunition in the North Sea and Baltic Sea poses a great danger to the environment and also to people. As the researchers of the Helmhotz Center explain, there is still the risk of explosions - and is therefore a danger, especially in the vicinity of coasts. On the one hand, explosions could happen during the laying of submarine cables or the construction of offshore wind turbines. Yet 1.6 million tonnes is an unimaginable sum. The amount is "equivalent to 400,000 large African elephants," said Jens Greinert of the University of Kiel to the Tagesschau.
However, toxins, including mercury and lead, are also released by the rusting of the materials, thereby harming the environment. The process would be accelerated primarily by global warming caused by climate change. Another problem is the detection of contaminated sites. They are trying to use underwater drones and old Allied logbooks to find out where the ammunition is on the seabed. This is not always easy.
100 million euros to help recover old ammunition from the North Sea and Baltic Sea
In the coalition agreement, it was agreed to draw up an immediate programme for the salvage. According to the Ministry of the Environment, 100 million euros from the federal budget until 2025 are available for this purpose. Subsequently, according to Lemke, the salvage will begin. "We are breaking new ground worldwide," says the minister. "We need to gain experience first."
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Fancy a voyage of discovery?
The problem is not news to the government. So far, however, according to Lemke, the responsibilities have been constantly "shifted back and forth". Now they finally want to start, even if not everything has been clarified in detail. At the same time, Lemke hopes that other European countries will follow suit and start salvage operations within their borders. (NZ with dpa)