Underwater Survey and Clearance of Explosive Ordnance

  • Version
    Ed. 1
  • Latest amendment
    01 Dec 2014

This standard establishes basic principles and requirements for underwater explosive ordnance (EO) survey and clearance operations. The obvious difference between EO on land versus underwater is the location of the ordnance. Water does not make EO less dangerous; however, it provides a barrier to access just as a fence would be a barrier to accessing a protected site. Access in this case is more difficult because it requires specialised equipment and skills (diving). In many ways water complicates EO clearance and mitigation efforts. Locating underwater EO is challenging because it requires specialised equipment and training. Disposing of underwater EO is also challenging because of the sensitivities of the marine environment. This standard will introduce the process of underwater EO clearance and establish basic accreditation and qualification requirements for underwater operations.

Wars and hasty post-war dumping over the last century have left our global waters littered with ordnance. Military air and naval bombardments, naval mining operations, military firing ranges, sea-dumping of munitions, ship and aircraft wrecks have all contributed to the problem. As maritime construction projects become more prominent and our exploration of the underwater environment increases, we will more frequently encounter these EO. In some areas, encounters with underwater ordnance have become routine during commercial fishing, recreational beach- going, laying pipelines, maritime construction and diving. Proactive approaches are introduced in this standard to mitigate the risks of underwater EO and their associated socio-economic impact.

Until recently, national militaries have maintained almost exclusive expertise in clearing underwater EO. Today, however, different types of organisations, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), commercial companies and teams of local authorities are clearing these hazards. The approach outlined in this standard combines military tactics and mine action methodologies using commercial technology to clear underwater EO in a safe, efficient and cost-effective manner.

Although underwater survey technology developed by the military and oil/gas industry over the last decade has produced capable systems for mapping the presence of EO, the training, experience and qualifications required of personnel conducting these operations can be substantial. Diving operations also require a considerable amount of training and experience. National authorities and donors need to decide early which capabilities are required to be developed locally versus tasks that should be conducted by other organisations (e.g., NGOs, commercial or military organisations). For example, an analysis following a non-technical survey may conclude that a specialist organisation should conduct a technical survey to map underwater EO contamination followed by a local police force conducting clearance operations as part of a capacity development program. Sustainability of a capacity development program should be a key consideration when analysing the most appropriate action.

An important factor to be aware of is the dynamic nature of the underwater environment. In some areas, natural events such as storms and currents can uncover and move underwater EO. Long term monitoring programmes are important in such cases and should be implemented as part of the quality management process.

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