The Icelandic waters are littered with a significant amount of sea mines and other ordnance left over from two world wars, posing a threat to the environment and civilian shipping.
This Historical Ordnance Disposal Operation (HODOPS) took place between March 31 and April 5. The objective was to reduce the risk posed by sea mines to maritime communities and other traffic in Icelandic territorial waters. It also presented an opportunity for enhanced training in mine countermeasures operations to SNMCMG1 participating units. Further, mapping the seabed is important preparation for future operations.
Potential [explosive] objects are further investigated and identified with remotely operated vehicles or mine clearance divers
But how do the ships know where to look for ordnance?
“It’s a bit of detective work, where historical documents and pictures provide clues of where objects could be found,” Commander, SNMCMG1 Royal Norwegian Navy Commander s.g. Ole Torstein Sjo said. “Using different tools to search the seabed, the ships detect objects that resemble shapes of sea mines and grenades. Potential [explosive] objects are further investigated and identified with remotely operated vehicles or mine clearance divers.”
SNMCMG1 currently includes mine clearance divers from the Belgian, Estonian, German, Dutch and Latvian Navies. Together, they have conducted 27 hours of dive time throughout these operations.
The divers never know for sure what they will find on the seabed. In Hvalafjordur, Iceland, several objects resembled moored mines. However, the team eventually identified those objects as part of a World War II submarine barrage set to prevent German submarines from entering the fjord. Reduced visibility and underwater fauna made it a challenging task.
The Northern Barrage was the name given to minefields laid by the British during World War II to restrict German access to the Atlantic Ocean. The barrage stretched from Orkney to the Faroe Islands, towards Iceland and Denmark. During World War II, the British and American navies placed several naval bases inside Hvalafjordur, securing them with both mines and anti-submarine nets.
After completing the HODOPS, SNMCMG1 provided the Icelandic Coast Guard with detailed seabed information from the hunted area. This facilitates their ongoing efforts to map the seabed and ensure the safety of navigation within Icelandic territorial waters.
During the operation, SNMCMG1 comprised the Estonian Navy ship ENS Sakala, Belgian Navy BNS Bellis, Royal Norwegian Navy flagship HNoMS Nordkapp, German Navy FGS Rottweil, and Royal Netherlands Navy HNLMS Schiedam.