Explosives about half-cleared from Bell Island shipwrecks as mission ends
Bad weather impeded total clearance, says Lt. Tim Woodworth
About half of the artillery shells and ammunition that sat rusting in the water off Bell Island have been brought to the surface and detonated after a week-long clearance mission, the Canadian Armed Forces says.
Lt. Tim Woodworth said Wednesday that about 82 unexploded shells and two boxes of rounds from Second World War ships were destroyed — which he considers a remarkable success, given the awful conditions.
Weather was "not completely favourable," Woodworth said. "We had some wind, we had some wave action."
Because the divers were relying on surface supply air, the choppy waters meant moving cautiously, he said.
"If you can picture the ship at the end of the mooring, just spinning around with the wind, it can be quite challenging," he said.
The sheer distance between the four shipwrecks — iron ore carriers that sank in 1942 after they were torpedoed by German U-boats — and the surface also made diving a technical challenge.
"At that depth you're not completely sure what you're going into. The wrecks are in various stages of disrepair; some of them are in better shape than others," he said.
"For penetration diving, any time you want to go into a shipwreck, you want to make sure that it's safe for everybody involved."
Watch footage of 70-year-old explosives from the Bell Island shipwrecks being detonated:
The crew's caution ensured the divers and crew remained safe, Woodworth said, adding that the crew is hoping to come back and complete the clearing "at a later date."
The ordnances that were recovered were trucked to a range just outside Bay Roberts.
"They treat it as something that could go off at any time," he said.
"When they bring it up, they wrap it up in wet blankets to keep it nice and moist. They transport it in armoured vehicles," Woodworth said.
"Once it's out at the range, they dig a pit and line it with sandbags. The ordnance is placed in the pit, covered with explosives and detonated.… It's quite the bang."
The mission was part of a countrywide campaign steered by the Department of National Defence to clear unexploded ordnance from Canadian waters, ensuring safer conditions undersea.
With files from On The Go