Shetland’s MSP and Scottish Liberal Democrat, Beatrice Wishart held a debate on Tuesday evening with support from speakers from every political party in the Scottish Parliament, raising the issue of unexploded ordnance (UXOs) in Scotland’s waters and a preference for clearance by less harmful methods such ‘low order’ detonations. ‘High order’ detonations are frequently used to blow up the weapons on the seabed sending out a loud noise which can be damaging to the auditory systems of marine mammals. This can have serious impacts on the communication and feeding of these social and intelligent creatures.
500,000 unexploded weapons from the World Wars are estimated to litter areas including those designated for offshore wind farms. Before construction areas must be surveyed and any UXO removed with divers placing ‘high order’ counter charges for the clearance. As well as the impact on marine mammals, human life is also put in harm’s way as fishing vessels can trawl up unexploded weapons.
The Scottish Government is a signatory, along with other UK regulators, to a non-binding Joint Position Statement, regarding clearance methods. Last month Wishart hosted a ‘Stop Sea Blasts’ event in the Scottish Parliament, a campaign she has supported since first elected in 2019, and which attracted cross party support. Wishart also met with the Minister for Environment and Land Reform to discuss the issue last month.
In the debate, Wishart also spoke of the Ross Kestrel, a trawler fishing off Fair Isle which hauled up a torpedo in its nets. The torpedo exploded and tragically killed two crew members, and the vessel was escorted into Lerwick Harbour by the lifeboat.
During the debate Ms Wishart said:
“There are an estimated half a million unexploded ordnance items – or UXOs - in waters around the UK, many in the areas designated for offshore windfarms. These munitions have posed a risk for decades with numerous examples of unexploded bombs, torpedoes and shells being hauled up in fishing nets.
“Encountering these UXOs increases the risk to us and the environment. UXOs are usually cleared by ‘high order’ detonations, where a counter charge is placed next to the unexploded munitions and both are exploded creating a large underwater blast.
“A report into the 2011 incident at the Kyle of Durness, where 39 long-finned pilot whales became stranded leading to 19 deaths, revealed that noise from munition disposal operations in the area at the time was the probable cause of the strandings and deaths.”
Notes to Editors
You can watch MS Wishart’s speech here.