New plan for pollution threat U-boat

The Norwegian government may be about to come to a compromise solution over what to do about the wreck of a German wartime submarine which could pose a major pollution threat close to an important fishing and fish farming area.

U-864 was torpedoed near the Vestland island of Fedje in February 1945 by the Royal Navy sub HMS Venturer in what is thought to be the only encounter of one submarine sinking another while under water. The entire crew of 76 perished with the vessel.

The boat was carrying dozens of containers with 65 tonnes of mercury, making the wreck, discovered only 20 years ago, a serious threat to marine life and aquaculture operations.

With Germany facing imminent defeat, it is thought U-864 may have been on her way to Japan when attacked.

The fear is that the mercury containers in the submarine will leak, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the marine environment and the seafood industry.

The original plan was to lift the boat in its entirety, but that is now thought as being too risky. Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bjørnar Skjæran said yesterday he is studying a report proposing that as much mercury as possible should be removed and the wreck covered over and left on the seabed.

Environmental groups, such as the Green Warriors of Norway, are strongly opposed to leaving any of the mercury on the seabed even if it is capped with a layer of sand.

It is feared the enormous amounts of mercury will constitute a potential environmental catastrophe if they get out into the bodies of water and spread with the ocean currents along most of the Norwegian coast.

The report’s manager Gro Kielland said the new proposal was based on an updated risk assessment and on what was technically and environmentally feasible along with taking into account the concerns of businesses and local people. However, many local people and environmental groups are reporting to be unhappy with this new suggestion, saying they still want the wreck to be raised and the mercury removed on the surface.

The local population, the environmental movement and most of the local parties have fought to have the submarine wreck raised and the mercury removed.

Minister Skjæran said after receiving the report: “It is important that the government chooses a solution that is safe for the environment and the population. I take seriously the unrest people in Fedje and along the Westland coast have lived with for many years because of this case.”

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