Joanna Lumley marine protection: 80+ bombs cleared in Scotland

17/11/2023

DAME Joanna Lumley has hailed the recent clearance of over 80 offshore munitions in the Moray Firth by munitions specialists EODEX using a ‘low order’ deflagration technique, a landmark move to protect marine habitats.

The operation involved over 80 targets, achieved a success rate of 100%, and exhibited noise levels even lower than anticipated. Dame Joanna, champion of the Stop Sea Blasts campaign, has called on UK governments to mandate such ‘low order techniques’ as opposed to traditional detonation methods, known to drastically harm sea mammals.

Dame Joanna says she is ‘thrilled to her bones’ at the success, noting she believes it should give law makers and regulators the confidence to press ahead with effectively outlawing loud and disruptive detonations in such operations.

Low order deflagration makes munitions safe by ‘burning out’ their explosive contents, avoiding dramatic noise and shock waves. 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.

There are believed to be some 300,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance in UK coastal waters and the need for an environmentally friendly means of disposal has increased in line with the growing number of offshore windfarms.

Dame Joanna 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.”

Operations at the Moray West project began in April and ran through to September, with a total of 83 targets identified including munitions with degraded casings. Items cleared included a mixture of mines, bombs, torpedoes, and naval projectiles ranging from 4.5 to 15 inch calibre and dating from both World Wars. Of particular note was the clearance of a 2,200lb LMB (Luftmine B) aluminium cased mine. It is believed that this was the first instance of such a device being cleared commercially using low order deflagration. 

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

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 been clearing 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 persuade law makers and regulators 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. In terms of the future of our industry, this is nothing short of a historic breakthrough.”

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.

Simon Morgan added:

“The various authorities set a clear direction of travel in the Interim Position Statement of November 2021. Now, we need to consign high order detonations to the history books.

Of course, there is a need for clarity too, on what systems have been tested, and which haven’t. We are hopeful that publication of the final policy position is imminent, and hope it will set clearly which various techniques, like our own, can be used with confidence.” 

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