Munitions At Sea
A Guide for Commercial
During commercial fishing, clamming, or dredging operations, net, bottom-tending gear, and dredges may catch or dredge up munitions from the ocean. These munitions should be considered as presenting a serious danger to a vessel and its crew.
Many vessel crews tell sea stories about catching suspicious items in their nets or dredging gear.
Bombs on the Seabed
The lucky crews live to spin their own tales, while others become the subject of tragic sea stories.
Depth Charges on the Seabed1b
In July 1965, such a tragedy took place aboard the fishing vessel Snoopy. The Snoopy was trawling for scallops of the coast of North Carolina when it caught a large cylinder-shaped item in its net. A witness said he could clearly see a long round object swaying in the net amidships over the Snoopy.
Recovered WWII Depth Charge1a
What happened next is unclear; but an explosion occurred that caused the loss of the Snoopy and eight members of the crew.
What went wrong? Was it preventable? Could something have been done to save the crew? While all these questions were asked, no one but the crew aboard the Snoopy knows what actually happened that day. However, the tale of the Snoopy is meaningful if others learn from this tragedy.
(Note: Divers, both commercial and sport, should also be aware of the hazards munitions present).
Here are some tips on how to respond if you suspect you have encountered munitions at sea. Remember the 3Rs (Recognize, Retreat, Report).
The military has conducted training and combat operations at sea for centuries. Prior to 1970, the military also sea disposed of excess, obsolete or unserviceable munitions en route to port of a part of planned disposals. In the 1970s, our military stopped sea disposal of munitions and now only allows it in an emergency. Mariners are cautioned they could encounter munitions anywhere during commercial operations, such as fishing or dredging. Using common sense and basic knowledge, you can spin your own story rather than becoming a character in a tragic sea tale.
Various Projectiles Recovered from the Water
Munitions can be encountered anywhere, not just in charted hazard areas, at sea. Munitions that crews may encounter include mines, torpedoes, depth charges, artillery shells, bombs and missiles. These munitions can contain high explosives or chemical agents that present a serious danger to a vessel and its crew.
* In some cases, munitions that have been in water for long periods may be more sensitive. It is best to avoid handling any suspected or actual munitions recovered from the sea.
MUNITIONS ARE DESIGNED TO BE DANGEROUS
Munitions are designed to injure, maim, or kill people, or to destroy a vessel or other equipment. The best protection from the hazards associated with munitions is to heed the warnings on nautical charts, avoid known disposal areas and learn the 3Rs (Recognize, Retreat, Report).
Aerial Bomb on Seabed
|This guide includes drawings representative of various munitions that may be encountered. Drawings may help people recognize suspect munitions.
CHEMICAL MUNITIONS AND CHEMICAL AGENTS
Beginning in World War I, the Department of Defense (then, the Department of War) designed chemical agents to kill, seriously injure, or incapacitate an enemy. In the past, the United States and other countries sea-dumped both munitions with chemical agent fills and chemical agents in bulk, such as 55-gallon drums filled with chemical agents. As a result, some munitions or drums recovered from the sea may contain chemical agents.
Recovered Chemical Projectile
CHEMICAL AGENTS PRESENT A SERIOUS DANGER TO A VESSEL AND ITS CREW
Vessel crew should be alert for abnormal conditions that may indicate the presence of chemical agents.
If chemical agents are suspected, immediate action is necessary to protect the crew and vessel.
* Close all doors and hatches;
In case of contact with chemical agents, immediately rinse with large amounts of water (if possible, warm soapy water), even if no effects are felt. Crewmembers should not work in a contaminated area and every effort should be made to prevent the spreading of contaminants.In case of contact with chemical agents, immediately rinse with large amounts of water (if possible, warm soapy water), even if no effects are felt. Crewmembers should not work in a contaminated area and every effort should be made to prevent the spreading of contaminants.
Chemical Filled Projectile Recovered from Clam Beds
Fishing vessels that have come into contact with chemical agents must not bring their catch ashore until it has been changed and released by the appropriate state’s Department of Environmental Health. Sea life contaminated by chemical agents is unsuitable for human or animal consumption.
A clean torpedo (top) and a recovered torpedo (bottom)
The specific action required will depend on the circumstances. However, if possible, crews should avoid bringing munitions (or suspect munitions) onboard. If a munition is found, a decision must be made whether to retreat by carefully jettisoning the munition, cutting away the gear, if necessary or, as a last resort, securing the munition onboard and moving the crew away. Great care should be taken to avoid bumping the munition; each action carries risk.
NEVER BRING ACTUAL OR SUSPECT MUNITIONS INTO A PORT
MUNITIONS NOT ONBOARD
If an actual or suspect munition is recovered:
If an actual or suspected munition in the gear is brought over the deck, but remains suspended and can continue to be safely suspended in place or nearby, immediately:
If a suspect muntion is brought onboard:
* If retained onboard
French Rifle Grenade in good condition (left) and a recovered grenade (right)
If within 2 or 3 hours of land, the safest measure is to notify the US Coast Guard and move to the rendezvous area offshore.
Careful observation is necessary prior to reporting, so that proper instructions and assistance can be provided. The information you provide may also be combined with other reports to produce new warnings to mariners and update nautical charts.
|When actual or suspect munitions are encountered at sea, the vessel’s captain should ensure the US Coast Guard is notified and provided the below information, as soon as possible. (Note: If a munition is encountered while in port [e.g., during off loading or processing] call 911.)
Recovered Hand Grenades
Recovered 60MM Mortars
Recovered Fragmentation Bomb1c
THE US COAST GUARD WILL NOTIFY THE APPROPRIATE MILITARY EXPLOSIVE ORDNANCE DISPOSAL UNIT TO ARRANGE FOR REQUIRED SUPPORT
A clean 5-inch 38 Caliber Projectile (Left) and recovered 5-inch 38 Caliber Projectiles (Right)
Diagram from UNC Sea Grant Publication UNC-ST-81-05, May 19812
Munitions are dangerous, and may not be easily recognizable!
Avoid known explosives disposal areas!
Do not bring munitions on-board!
Avoid physical contact, if possible, but minimize handling to that needed to protect the vessel and crew!
Never bring a munition into port, unless directed to do so by USCG!
Remember the 3Rs
RECOGNIZE: Recognize when you may have encountered a munition.
RETREAT: If you know or suspect you have encountered a munition, jettison it or secure it and keep the crew out of the immediate area.
REPORT: Immediately notify the US Coast Guard of the vessel’s or munition’s location and provide a description of the munition. Emergency contacts:
* In port: Call 911
* At Sea: Use Channel 16 (156.800 MHz)
For additional information on this and related issues see the US Army's UXO Safety Education Website www.denix.osd.mil/UXOSafety
Prepared by the Defense Ammunition Center
U.S. Army Technical Center for Explosives Safety (USATCES)
1a. Photographs Courtesy of AMPRO Consultants.
1b. Photographs Courtesy of AMPRO Consultants.
1c Photographs Courtesy of AMPRO Consultants.
2. A Fisherman's Guide to Explosive Ordnance, UNC Sea Grant College Publication UNC-SG-81-05.
Source: Pamphlet [undated], titled Munitions at Sea, prepared by the Defense Ammunition Center, U.S. Army Technical Center for Explosives Safety.