Anglers warned: Unexploded WWII ordnance found in fishing water near Rhode Island

Danish surveyors find unexploded ordnance
Unexploded World War II munitions lie on the seafloor in the northeast.
Block Island Maritime Institute

As if offshore wind farms weren’t controversial enough, new warnings from Danish surveyors have unequivocally troubled anglers and boaters. Ørsted recently discovered 11 unexploded ordnance on the seafloor in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. The U.S. Coast Guard issued a warning to ships and others sailing in the area.

“They range from 6-inch shells to 250-pound bombs,” Ørsted’s Ryan Ferguson was quoted as saying Governors Wind Energy Coalition (GWEC).

In early July, another shipping company discovered an unexploded bomb at a planned 62-turbine “Vineyard Wind” site off the coast of Massachusetts. World War II naval ammunition is believed to have weighed nearly 1,000 pounds and was buried about 100 feet below the seabed, according to New Scientist magazine.

This is not just an American problem. Ferguson said Ørsted had found similarly dangerous World War II military materials off the coast of northern Europe that had been discarded or dumped in the ocean after the war.

As U.S. offshore wind production increases to meet energy demand, the discovery of these potentially deadly bombs and other munitions presents governments and control agencies with a dilemma about how to deal with such dangers — keep them or remove and destroy them.

The U.S. Military, NOAA, and the Ocean Energy Administration will be involved in ordnance discovery and disposal. Newly discovered “hot spots” of unexploded bombs, artillery shells and other dangerous WWII wreckage will be added to well-known such locations, such as Nomans Land island in Massachusetts, where the Navy’s target practice is at a distance of Martha Only three miles of Vineyard Island left remnants of a dangerous device.

According to experts, there are many unknown dumping sites for munitions, with changing and powerful currents on the seafloor moving hazardous materials to unknown locations.

The Navy is responsible for disposing of unexploded ordnance found in U.S. waters.

The Department of Defense adheres to the “stay in place” policy described in a 2016 Congressional report on the issue.

Andy Elvin, EODEX’s U.S. chief executive, said the ordnance issue had largely been “out of sight, out of mind.” Erwin is an unexploded ordnance specialist of Royal Navy blood. His company specializes in dealing with undersea hazards by burning ordinances rather than explosions.

Erwin believes the Navy’s hands-off policy on unexploded bombs, shells, missiles, etc. is outdated as more and more of the offshore wind industry begins to expand subsea work.

“If you don’t mitigate them — like make the problem go away, and go away in an environmentally friendly way — now there’s a piece of dynamite you know where it’s on the seabed, and it may or may not be picked up by the fishermen,” Elle said. Wen told GWEC. “Someone needs to do something about it, it’s a moral obligation.”

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