Dredgers dig up massive ammo cache off Mumbai

The JNPT has asked the Navy to depute experts to examine the unprecedented recoveries

Written by Smita Nair | Mumbai | Published: May 31, 2013 3:59 am

Dredging operations carried out in the Arabian Sea off Mumbai in April and May have scooped out as many as 83 bomb shells,several missiles,hand grenades and bullets. The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) has asked the Navy to depute experts to examine the unprecedented recoveries.

Maharashtra ATS chief Rakesh Maria said the squad was “assisting” the Navy in the probe. DGP Sanjeev Dayal said the police was aware of the recoveries and was awaiting details from the Navy.

While a few unexploded shells from World War II have been fished out in the past,port officials said the current haul was peculiar. “It is unusual,as we have found Navy firearms along with the bomb shells. The size of the cache too is massive,” a senior port official said.

The official said efforts were under way to determine whether the ordnance was from the famous 1944 ‘Bombay Explosion’,during which the freighter SS Fort Stikine loaded with cotton,gold and explosives caught fire.

An official from the dredging consortium involved said they remained apprehensive about some of the ordnance possibly being live.

Port authorities now want a naval expert permanently on their two Trailing Suction Hopper Dredgers — the TSHD Queen of Netherlands and TSHD HAM 318 — which are carrying out the dredging. Officials said the vessels first hit a “hazardous” barrel of chemicals in November 2012,which prompted the authorities and the dredging consortium to carry out a magnetometer survey of the seabed.

Dredging resumed in March 2013,but the dredgers soon found “unidentified explosive ordnance (UXO)” in two different sections of the 34-km common channel of the Mumbai port harbour and JNPT port,as well as in Emergency Anchorage,according to an internal report.

“In the survey,we had found 160 serious obstructions on the seabed,including ships’ hatch covers,remnants of containers and other heavy metallic objects. But we never anticipated such a huge cache of naval ammunition,” an officer said. “Various clusters of ammunition have been recovered during separate cycles of dredging. Twenty three bomb shells were found last week,and another cluster was found late on Tuesday evening.”

JNPT port chairman N N Kumar declined to comment on the finds.

A naval officer said,“We need to study the bullets and grenades found. We have no history on them in the Navy’s archives. Such a large cache is unheard of.”

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