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Over 80 offshore munitions cleared from the Moray Firth in historic breakthrough for marine conservation

By David Porter

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Over 80 offshore munitions have been successfully removed from the Moray Firth without environmentally damaging High Order detonations, marking a ground-breaking advancement in marine protection by offshore disposal specialists EODEX UK.

This follows a lengthy Stop Sea Blasts campaign by actress Dame Joanna Lumley to call for an end to disruptive detonations.

Munitions disposal specialists EODEX UK have completed an operation for the Moray West offshore wind farm clearing over 80 confirmed unexploded items of ordnance in the Moray Firth, making this the largest collection of munitions successfully dealt with on a single wind farm development.

The Moray West project is being developed by Ocean Winds, a 50/50 joint venture between ENGIE and EDP Renewables.

Controlled low order deflagration of an LMB mine in the Moray Firth.
Controlled low order deflagration of an LMB mine in the Moray Firth.

The operation has been hailed by actress and activist Dame Joanna Lumley, who noted the success should give law makers and regulators the confidence to press ahead with effectively outlawing loud and disruptive High Order detonations.

The explosives were cleared using a low order deflagration technique, in partnership with Alford Technologies, with an overwhelming 100 per cent success rate.

Low order deflagration neutralises the munition by ‘burning out’ the explosive contents, avoiding dramatic noise and shock waves, which historically have caused widespread destruction to marine habitats as far as 35km from the detonation site.

Detonations are widely attributed to be a key factor in mass stranding events – such as the Kyle of Durness in July 2011, where 19 long-finned pilot whales died in distressing circumstances.

Operations began in January and ran through until September, with the cleared Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) items including a large number of Naval projectiles, Anti-Submarine weapons, influence Sea Mines and Air Dropped weapons (bombs).

The Naval projectiles ranged from 4.5 – 15 inch, one of which was date stamped 11.10.1915.

The Air Dropped weapons encountered were from both World Wars and the Sea Mines most likely World War 2.

Of particular note was the successful clearance of a 2200lb LMB (Luftmine B) aluminium cased influence Sea Mine.

Evidence suggests this was the first instance of such a device being cleared commercially using low order deflagration.

Independent noise monitoring was carried out on the first 30 clearances revealed that the low order deflagration technique was quieter than anticipated, delivering environmental results that exceeded expectations.

All scrap debris and waste was safely removed from the seabed without trace of explosive residue left behind.

Post site analysis at each of the target locations revealed no damage to the seabed in the form of cratering.

Pete Geddes, Project Director for the Moray West offshore wind farm said:“EODEX had provided an excellent service, working closely with our team to ensure the site was cleared of UXO in an environmentally safe way and in time to allow offshore installation works to commence on programme.

"We are pleased that this UK company has developed an effective UXO disposal mechanism that reduces environmental risk.

"Avoiding High Order detonations on this project has reduced the potential for environmental harm, been well received by key stakeholders and demonstrates our commitment to working with innovators to drive best practice in the sector.”

Simon Morgan, Chief Executive of EODEX said:“For decades, industry has cleared munitions from the Second World War using Second World War techniques: just blowing them up.

"This has caused immense damage to the marine environment and sea creatures – and that’s unforgivable when alternatives exist.

"We are proud to play a leading role in efforts to change the licencing regime so that only proven low order clearance techniques, such as our low order deflagration, can be used in subsea clearances.

"As the only technique subjected to the full array of quarry and open sea trials, and with a track record of successful use in military circles, we have always been totally confident in our system.

I can’t think of any better demonstration of the reliability, safety, and effectiveness of low order deflation than with this large-scale success. For the future of our industry, this is nothing short of a historic breakthrough.”

The achievement has been welcomed by actress and activist Dame Joanna Lumley, who hails the milestone as a glowing indictment of progress.

Dame Joanna Lumley, Spokesperson for the Stop Sea Blasts campaign, said: “I am thrilled to my bones that the EODEX team have demonstrated in such spectacular style just how effective, safe, and environmentally friendly low order deflagration really is. To hear they have safely disposed of over 80 unexploded munitions with only a hand clap of a noise is just wonderful.

"I praise the Operator, Ocean Winds, to the high heavens for having the vision, foresight, and confidence to give the EODEX crew the chance to showcase the capabilities of this technique on such a grand scale. I know that the Government and their various regulators are all beavering hard to develop the policy position on this issue into a tougher set of rules and guidance.

"I’m sure that this amazing success can only give regulators comfort that they are right to press on with this task with an even greater sense of urgency. I know that if they could talk, all our wonderful sea creatures would surely add their voices to that call too.”

High order detonation can cause temporary and permanent sensory loss in marine mammals as far away as 25km from the detonation site, as well as causing significant damage to the seabed.

The high-order approach involves the detonation of large explosive donor charges near the UXOs, resulting in the detonation of any explosive material inside them. This method has faced considerable criticism due to its destructive nature, causing large craters and liquefaction.

In November 2021, the UK Government issued an Interim Position Statement, supported by a range of stakeholders and regulators, stating that low order clearance techniques should be ‘prioritised’.

Since then, governments and regulators have worked with industry stakeholders, including the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Defence Science Technology Laboratory (DSTL) to develop this statement into a more robust position.

List of munitions cleared in the operation include- 4.5 – inch Projectiles; 6 – inch Projectiles; 10 – inch Projectiles;15 – inch Projectiles; 500lb Air Dropped weapon; 250lb Air Dropped weapon; Anti-Submarine weapon; German Influence Mine (LMB) (English nomenclature GC).

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