The discovery of 34 unexploded bombs near Cairnryan in South West Scotland this week has once again focused attention on the dangerous legacy posed by munitions disposal at Beaufort Dyke.
Cairnryan was used as the main point for the seaward disposal of surplus munitions and a wide range of military ordnance, including explosives, chemical and biological weapons, was shipped offshore for disposal in the Dyke area (a deep 20 mile long natural deep equidistant between Scotland and Northern Ireland, in the North Channel).
In some instances the munitions were shipped further out into the Atlantic to dump sites to the north of Donegal and to the west of the Hebrides. At these locations obsolete shipping loaded with the surplus weapons were sunk and still lie on the seabed with their deadly cargoes.
It is not clear where the weapons most recently found at Cairnryan have come from. They may have been earmarked for disposal off shore and then, possibly due to bad weather, discharged closer to the land.
There is also something of a mystery surrounding the nature of the threat posed.
Usually Army bomb disposal teams simply make the devices safe and then move them to a safe site for disposal (usually by blowing them up). Media reports however suggest that these bombs (or samples taken from them) have been transferred to Porton Down now euphemistically called the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (it is better known as the Chemical and Biological Defence Experimental Establishment) where the United Kingdom has concocted its chemical weapons since 1916.
Porton Down’s expertise may be needed if the recently discovered explosives contain any `nasties’ such as the nerve gases tabun and sarin (large quantities of this material was trans-shipped via Cairnryan and other North West ports after W W 2 for sea disposal.
Equally nasty are phosphorous munitions but these tend to ignite once they dry out so it is unlikely that this latest incident involves this type of munitions.
Large quantities of shells containing mustard gas were also disposed of in this area after both World Wars these can cause horrendous illness as we highlighted in the example of fishermen contaminated by exposure (see link below):
We shall have to wait to see what Porton Down determine this latest weaponry is. Sadly however, the old Chemical and Biological Weapons facility did not have a track record for openness!