Unexploded bombs endanger Gulf of Mexico shipping

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Oceanographers will today deliver a warning at a Puerto Rico conference that unexploded bombs beneath the Gulf of Mexico pose a severe threat to shipping, as well as oil and gas rigs.

William Bryant and Neil Slowey of Texas A&M University say that millions of pounds of bombs and other military ordnance have been scattered over the Gulf of Mexico in past decades, as well as off the coasts of at least 16 states, from New Jersey to Hawaii.

And, they say, they're a significant danger, not just to ships but to  the 4,000 oil and gas rigs in the Gulf.

"This has been well known for decades by many people in marine science and oceanography," says Bryant.

"My first thought when I saw the news reports of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf two years ago were, 'Oh my gosh, I wonder if some of the bombs down there are to blame.'"

Military dumping of unused bombs into the Gulf and other sites started in 1946 and continued until 1970, when it was finally banned. And nobody, not even the militasry, knows how much is there.

"The best guess is that at least 31 million pounds of bombs were dumped, but that could be a very conservative estimate," says Bryant.

"And these were all kinds of bombs, from land mines to the standard military bombs, also several types of chemical weapons. Our military also dumped bombs offshore that they got from Nazi Germany right after World War II. No one seems to know where all of them are and what condition they are in today."

Photos show that some of the chemical weapons canisters, such as those that carried mustard gas, appear to be leaking materials and are damaged.

"We surveyed some of them on trips to the Gulf within the past few years," he notes. "Ten are about 60 miles out and others are about 100 miles out," says Bryant.

"The next closest dump site to Texas is in Louisiana, not far from where the Mississippi River delta area is in the Gulf. Some shrimpers have recovered bombs and drums of mustard gas in their fishing nets."

The researchers are calling for a full survey to assess the risk.