Ticking time bombs. Out sight, out of mind.
KNOKKE, Belgium _ The North Sea off Belgium and _ just across the border _ its Oosterschelde estuary in the Netherlands are home to 2 large dumps of live munitions. They are legacies of 2 world wars, says the Belgian scientific magazine Eos. It speaks of “ticking time bombs” and the possibility of an environmental disaster.
It says the ordnance contains large amounts of poison gas, TNT and white phosphorus. After both world wars “many unused munitions were dumped at sea,” Eos writes. “Off Knokke and in the Oosterschelde lie 2 of the North Sea’s largest ammunition dumps. ”
The Belgian site is the “Paardenmarkt” shoal off Knokke (photo above) along an approach route to the Port of Antwerp. Citing official Belgian data, Eos says it holds 10,000 tons of poison gas grenades under a layer of silt. “The consequences of a collision of a ship’s bow with crates of poisonous ordnance would be disastrous for marine life and the coastal region,” Eos writes.
The Dutch dump site lies off the town of Zierikzee on the Oosterschelde, a tidal estuary (photo below) that has been largely cutoff from the North Sea. It is believed to hold 30,000 tons of World War 2 ammunitions including gunpowder and TNT.
“What are we going to do with those ticking time bombs?” Eos Magazine asked. .
Not much, apparently. The existence of live ordnance from wars long past is a well-known and well-researched problem. In 2002, an international commission reported that the North Sea and the northeastern Atlantic hold 80 or so ammo dumps. In German waters alone, there are 16 ordnance dumps. The disposal of chemical weapons at sea was banned by international treaty in 1997.