Over a dozen bombs weighing 227 kilograms each, as well as numerous artillery projectiles, have been identified at two famous shipwreck sites off the southern coast of Newfoundland.
The Royal Canadian Navy announced the discovery in a series of tweets on Thursday that included pictures of an expedition to the USS Truxtun, an American destroyer, and USS Pollux, its accompanying supply ship.
Both ships sank during a fierce winter blizzard on Feb. 18, 1942, while en route to a U.S. naval base in Newfoundland during World War II, the Navy said.
One-hundred-and-ten crew members of the USS Truxtun died, along with 93 crew members on the USS Pollux. There were 186 survivors, according to the Canadian government.
“It’s a pretty famous shipwreck site,” Lt. Matthew Hammond with the Royal Canadian Navy told Global News.
Hammond said that there hasn’t been a lot of exploration of the site, but it has become more popular for recreational dives in the last couple of years. Canada’s Department of National Defence became aware that the site could potentially hold unexploded bombs in 2022. The determination was based on photos taken by the Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, the federal government said.
Now, a Royal Canadian Navy mission to the sites has been completed and a report is being drawn to recommend what to do next.
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Hammond said the bombs could pose a danger to recreational divers and to the local fishing community. Stories of fishermen catching potentially explosive artillery in their nets have popped up over the years, he said. There are no reports of injuries occurring, though. Hammond said he is not aware that any limitations have been put in place on diving in the area since the discovery of the bombs.
The Navy will determine how much danger the bombs pose and whether they should be removed, and how that could be done. Hammond said the bombs are not currently armed or active as there are no fuses in them, but the “high explosive composition” that the casings hold is still there.
“It being this long, and the beating they’ve taken over the years from the sea, you don’t know exactly what state that explosive is in,” he said.
The bombs are currently pretty “insensitive,” according to Hammond, who was a part of the diving expedition, but officials are trying to determine exactly what type of explosive is in there. He said some explosives become more inert over time in seawater, while others maintain their volatile properties. The nature of the explosives will determine the Navy’s actions going forward, Hammond said.
However, he said that a dive to retrieve the bombs wouldn’t happen until next summer at the earliest given that there are only two months of the year, July and August, in which conditions are suitable for diving.
“It’s not an easy, calm area to dive in. It’s very exposed to the Atlantic Ocean,” Hammond said, noting it is also around rocky topography.
“It’s not very straightforward in terms of going down and lifting them up. There’s a lot that has to be taken into account.”
A similar expedition to dispose of bombs was done at the Bell Island wrecks near Newfoundland a few years ago, he said. That could be a template for how these sites could be tackled, though Hammond said the newly discovered bombs are a lot bigger.
He said he is not aware of other shipwrecks that also could have bombs — his team only becomes aware of them when they pose a risk to public safety.
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