A tanker crew made a startling find when they raised their ship’s anchor off England’s South Coast last week – an old unexploded torpedo.
The anchor’s fluke had pierced the torpedo as it landed on the seabed, and then dragged it up from a depth of about 49 feet.
Extremely corroded, the British-made weapon is believed to be a test torpedo from a range that existed in that area until the 1980s. Test torpedoes often contain highly flammable propellant, according to the Royal Navy, which sent a specialist diving unit to the scene.
Most of the crew were evacuated from the tanker by the Royal Navy, with just a handful remaining on board to fight any fires if the torpedo exploded. “The tanker was carrying approximately 1000 tonnes of fuel or oil,” explained Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Campbell, in a statement. “The fuel cargo was pumped into the aftermost possible tanks to reduce the effects of any explosion, and fire hoses were charged and ready to deploy if needed.”
1,000 tonnes equals 1,102 tons.
“We directed the ship to use her other anchor to steady her, before lowering the fouled anchor, and the torpedo, to several metres below the waterline,” added Campbell.
Royal Navy divers then carefully removed the torpedo. "Working parts inside the torpedo could be seen from where the anchor fluke had ruptured it,” said Campbell. “The entire bomb disposal team were professional and got on with the job in hand.”
Once the torpedo was released, the Royal Navy team took it to the seabed and destroyed it.
The entire operation, from removing the torpedo to destroying it on the seabed took about seven hours. The merchant vessel’s crew, Campbell added, was “thoroughly relieved to be separated from their unwelcome burden.”