Unexploded Mines Cleared From Baltic Shipping Lanes

Royal Navy divers are taking part in an international operation to clear the Baltic Sea shipping lanes from unexploded mines and torpedoes. The explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) exercise is part of a NATO security mission hosted by Latvia, a blog post on the Royal Navy website explains.

The Delta Squadron of the Diving & Threat Exploitation Group took part in the operation alongside teams from Estonia, Lithuania, Germany, Belgium, Canada, and the United States. So far, they have recovered two ground mines and a torpedo to help make the area safer for seafarers.

Chief Petty Officer James Roberts said: “The aim is to continue our close working relationships and to make the sea lanes safer by identifying and disposing of historic maritime explosive ordnance, much of which is a legacy of WWII.”

“All nations are working together, contributing to the planning, identification, confirmation and recovery of explosive ordnance, building operational capability and increasing the ability to operate as a coherent task group.”

The operation is codenamed Open Spirit and it is focused on clearing potentially dangerous remnants of WWII warfare from the Baltic Sea. Some of the explosive remains are thought to have been from the Cold War era and also left over from WWI.  

During these conflicts, the area was subject to fierce naval battles and heavy air bombardments, as well as intensive naval mine warfare. Naval mines are self contained explosive devices that are designed to block enemy access. When activated, they can seriously damage or destroy underwater vessels and surface ships.

Defensive mine fields were used extensively during WWII, and there are estimated to be thousands of explosives remaining on the sea bed. Some of the munitions were deliberately dumped in the region after the end of the conflict, as it was considered to be the quickest and safest method of disposal.

PO Roberts continued: “From the most junior seamen to senior operators, working closely with our partners and allies demonstrates the resolve and commitment of the UK and all NATO to regional Baltic security and the principles of collective defence.”

He added: “It’s fantastic to be working with our friends in the Baltic again, this constant drumbeat of exercise allows real relationships to grow, bound by our shared values, stronger together and ready to defeat aggression.”

Unexploded munitions are detected by using advanced submarine robots that use sensors to map the sea bed and identify underwater objects. The extensive clean up operation has been ongoing since 1997 and is expected to continue for years to come.

Mine clearing missions are highly dangerous, and the divers have to undergo years of specialist training. The smaller Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are joined by countries with larger naval resources to help with the annual countermining exercise, including the UK, Canada, and the United States.

In 2005, three Dutch fishermen were killed when they unintentionally reeled in a live bomb that subsequently exploded. The bomb was identified as a US navy device left over from WWII.

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