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Munitionsbelastung der deutschen Meeresgewässer


Several relevant fields where assessed to gain knowledge and to understand, what is not known today.

Munitions-contaminated areas

  1. The map produced for the outcome report (Figure 2, for detailed views see the annex to the outcome report) shows 21 munitionscontaminated areas (7 of which are munitions dumpsites) in German marine waters of the North Sea, as well as 50 munitionscontaminated areas (8 of which are munitions dumpsites) and 21 suspected areas in the Baltic Sea region.
  2. It is assumed that still only a relatively small proportion of the actual areas contaminated by warfare materials are known. The available information contain gaps. Facts were only partially documented, and many existing archive reports still need to be reviewed.

For Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, for example, there is no reliable data on dumping activities from the time after 1945, although statements by witnesses indicate that such activities were carried out.

Types, properties and amounts of submerged warfare materials

  1. General information about the different kinds and properties of conventional and chemical kind of payload contained, weapons and munitions exists and is accessible to a satisfactory extent.
  2. The situation is unsatisfactory, however, with respect to the quantities of formerly dumped and partially retrieved warfare materials. Because only very incomplete information with limited detail is available, especially for the Baltic Sea area, no precise conclusions can be drawn about the actual amounts of armaments remaining in the sea today:
  • The amount of accumulated conventional armaments in German marine waters is estimated at up to 1,600,000 t--metric tons. As much as 1,300,000 t are assumed for the German North Sea waters. Up to now, the authorities have communicated amounts of up to 300,000 t--metric tons for German Baltic Sea waters. Because of the uncertainty of data from the Baltic Sea area, however, this estimate has to be viewed as somewhat unreliable.
  • The situation regarding data availability is much better for chemical weapons: Around 90 t--metric tons of dumped artillery shells filled with the nerve agent tabun are located in the Heligoland Basin. There are still around 5,000 t--metric tons of warfare agent munitions (bombs and shells) filled with phosgene and tabun buried within a sediment layer up to 8 m--meter thick in the Little Belt. An additional 1,000 t--metric tons of tabun shells originally dumped there were retrieved in 1959/1960. It is believed that additional isolated munitions are present along the former transport routes from the loading port of Wolgast to the dumping area in the Bornholm Basin.

Present condition and interactions of submerged warfare materials with the marine environment

1. Both intact warfare materials as well as completely corroded encasings with no remaining kind of payload have been found in investigations so far. Reliable estimates regarding the past corrosion rates and those to be expected in the future, and hence the release of contained substances into water and sediments, are not possible.

Because of the complex interrelations inherent in this process, the corrosion of submerged warfare materials cannot be generally assessed. A large number of parameters, ranging from the essential properties of the submerged warfare materials (such as material composition and shell thickness), to the local conditions of the environment and the position of the individual warfare material, including the physico-chemical characteristics of the surrounding waters and sediments, would have to be considered for every spot.

2. The abrupt and simultaneous opening of a large number of still-intact encasings as a result of corrosion, followed by a massive release of the contained substances into the marine environment is very improbable because of the diversity of container types, locations and local environmental conditions. A spatially broad and temporally successive release of contained substances (including chemical warfare agents) as a result of corrosion over a period of years or decades from almost all of the still intact containers, however, is considered probable.
Isolated unexplained events in German waters have been attributed to be related to selfdetonations. Explosive ordnance disposal specialists for German waters consider a release of large amounts of explosive-type compounds through self-detonation to be highly unlikely.

3. Released substances or other components of munitions interact with the marine environment in ways that depend on their chemical properties as well as on the physicochemical parameters of the local environment. While some compounds react rapidly with water (hydrolysis) and thus only remain in the marine environment for a short time, a longterm residence (persistence) of compounds that are less soluble in water or less prone to hydrolysis is possible. The conceivable persistence of these substances or their byproducts raises the concern of bioaccumulation (concentration in living organisms, particularly with regard to the food chain). However, repeatedly conducted investigations have not been able to confirm this presumption yet.

Incidents/accidents and hazards associated with submerged warfare materials

1. Accidents and incidents caused by submerged warfare materials in German coastal waters of the North and Baltic Seas and in the German Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) have been researched and documented by various authors, including Dr Stefan Nehring and Dr Marc Koch. Due to insufficient resources of personnel and time, officially verified compilations of accidents in the German coastal waters and in the EEZ are not available yet.

The frequency of incidents has decreased in both seas over the years. The majority of these, especially those resulting in fatalities, occurred in the post Second World War years till around 1960. Even nowadays, white phosphorus stemming from incendiary bombs is found intermittently on the beaches of Usedom. Because of its appearance it can be mistaken for amber and picked up. Phosphorus nuggets ignite spontaneously after drying. As a consequence, especially beach goers are involved in accidents. In other areas of the German North and Baltic Seas, only isolated findings of white phosphorus have been reported.

2. In principal, hazards occur (1) when munitions are retrieved intentionally (e.g. for research purposes) or unintentionally (e.g. by fishing with bottom trawls), possibly resulting in explosion or release of contents; (2) when munitions or released substances (e.g. white phosphorus) reach the shore by current and are subsequently handled inappropriately; (3) or when humans come into direct contact with the substances originating from warfare materials or with contaminated marine products (e.g. fish, shells, sea weed)

3. In the context considered here, warfare materials have to be regarded as latent sources of danger, categorically, that pose threats for activities in the marine area, for the environment and the coastal areas.

  • A threat to the near shore coastal regions is unlikely because of the current conditions prevailing in the North and Baltic Seas.
    With the exception of findings of white phosphorus, particularly on Usedom, very few cases of warfare materials being found near beaches are known (and these were followed up by appropriate clean-up measures). In these cases, the encounters of bathers, snorkelers and divers with warfare materials can result in dangerous situations.
  • A general latent threat exists for shipping as well as for persons that come into direct or indirect contact with the bottom [e.g. in the activities of diving, (bottom trawl) fishing and marine construction such as offshore facilities, pipeline-laying and shipping channel realignment].

4. Only a small number of studies have been carried out on the ecological threats of submerged warfare materials. All available findings confirm the assessment that to date no substantial, large-scale pollution of the environment has occurred due to warfare materials or their components, and that probably none is to be expected.

The components of both conventional and chemical payloads are considered, for the most part, to be water-hazardous. In general, they exhibit high toxicity and have a high ecotoxic potential, and most importantly, are suspected to be cancer-causing, mutagenic and/or damaging to fertility and harmful to the unborn baby, respectively (CMR substances – carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic).
Based on present knowledge, a threat to consumers in the form of possibly contaminated marine products, especially seafood, is highly unlikely.

Clean-up methods

Methods for the detection and clean-up of warfare materials have advanced significantly in recent years. Nowadays, the technical options for removal of warfare materials from the sea are largely available. Their applicability depends on the prevailing framework conditions and needs to be appraised on a case-by-case basis.

Bubble curtains were employed to mitigate the hazard to native marine mammals posed by acoustic emissions of blasts, which occurred during disposal of submerged conventional warfare materials. Attempts have been made at the application of water jet cutting technology in the marine environment for the clean-up of munitions-contaminated sites directly on-location. Adaptations of unmanned submersibles (ROV) to the demands for handling warfare materials in the marine environment have been largely completed.

Monitoring of submerged warfare materials

1. During the last decade, the number of studies and assessments on sea-dumped munitions has grown worldwide. Most of the studies deal with chemical warfare agents.

Several studies on contamination and the ecotoxicological effects of conventional munitions have been carried out in German marine waters. The concentrations of explosive-type compounds found in the water were below the limit of quantitation. This was generally also the case for the sediment and biota samples examined. Explosive-type compounds were only sporadically observed in the sediments, and then mostly only in concentrations slightly above the quantitation limits.

2. To date, no monitoring of the marine environment for warfare material-type and explosive-type compounds and their impacts on the marine environment is being conducted.

Notification and reporting systems

Before 2013 in Germany different offices accept reports on munitions findings. There was no central point of contact for coordination of the reporting system and compilation of all reports. This complicates the process of reporting to the appropriate commissions (OSPAR, HELCOM), which is mandatory for Germany.

Today the German joint despatch center of Harbor Police in Cuxhaven provides service as National Point of Contact: Munitions encountered

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