Toxic U-boat to be entombed on seabed
Norway plans to bury the wreck of a German submarine under sand and rubble to stop its cargo of mercury leaking into the sea.
In early 1945 the U-boat had set off for Japan but was torpedoed by a British submarine off Bergen. It was said to have been the first time that one submarine had sunk another while both were under water. Since then U-864 has remained almost 150m below the surface just over 3.2 kilometres from Fedje, an island of 600 people.
The government is to seal off about 4.4ha of the seabed under up to 12m of rubble to limit leakage from the 1800 mercury canisters on board. They have been leaking at the rate of about 8lb a year and fishing in the area has been banned.
Environmentalists say that the measure to seal off the danger is not enough. They fear that the wreck, described as an ‘‘underwater Chernobyl’’, could still leak mercury, with more than 60 tonnes seeping out for decades to come. Even in low amounts, mercury poses a danger to people who eat contaminated fish. U-864 was supposed to be the vanguard of Operation Caesar, the Germans’ ill-starred effort to bolster their Japanese allies. The U-boat left Kiel on December 5, 1944, but her hull was damaged and the captain sought shelter in the submarine pens of Norway.
The plan was discovered by cryptologists at Bletchley Park and the Navy dispatched HMS Venturer. On February 9, 1945, after a chase lasting several hours she fired four torpedos and the last one hit, sinking U-864 with the loss of all 73 crew members.
Campaigners had wanted the submarine brought ashore but the authorities say that is too risky as the canisters could break up in transit.
The burial operation, expected to cost up to NZ$50 million, will start next year and finish in 2020.
– The Times
Mercury leaking from a German submarine wrecked in World War II off Norway, shown here in a sonar image, is to be covered with rubble.
U-864 was supposed to be the vanguard of Operation Caesar, the Germans’ ill-starred effort to bolster their Japanese allies late in World War II.