From October 09 to 13, 2023, the Historical Ordnance Disposal (HOD) mission took place in the English Channel and North Sea.
The search for and neutralization is a major maritime security challenge.
The seabed in this area is characterised by significant explosive ordnance from the last two world wars. Experts estimate that it will take another 100 years of clean-up to remove submerged munitions from the entire coastline.
The main risk remains that of death or injury from an explosion. In 2005, 3 fishermen were killed in the southern North Sea when a World War II bomb caught in their nets exploded on their fishing boat. But submerged explosives are also toxic waste products that break down and corrode. They release toxins into the environment. Invisible shells are also environmental and health time bombs.
In 2022, the joint action of the French Navy’s group of mine clearance divers and tripartite mine hunters destroyed 1,007 mines and munitions of all types (at sea and on land), representing 15,675 TNT equivalent.
HOD operations involved in the major seabed clearance project.
Since 1996, joint operations called HOD have been carried out every year to remove historical munitions. This operation, led by the Standing NATO Mine Conter-measures Group1 (SNMCMG1), involved seven ships from five Alliance nations. The group was made up of fighters from the Belgian BNS Cro-cus, the Canadian HMCS Summerside and Shawinigan, the Dutch HNLMS Vlaardingen and Zierikzee, the Polish ORP Czernicki, which commanded the group, and the CMT L’Aigle.
25 square nautical miles (approx. 85km2) of the Bay of Seine were covered by the participating nations. In their mission, the clearance divers were supported by remote-controlled underwater robots from ORP Czernicki and HNLMS Zierikzee.
In all, the HOD operation made it possible to treat and neutralize 2 German mines, for a TNT equivalent of 1,300 kg.
The French Navy works daily to protect the French coastline and seabed. All its mine countermeasures resources (dedicated vessels such as tripartite mine hunters and groups of mine clearance divers) regularly carry out operations to detect, neutralize or destroy unexploded ordnance at sea or on French beaches.