600 kilos of explosives were lifted from the bottom of Liepaja Military Port. However, thousands of items are still waiting for their turn. One of them - rocket thrown depth charge (26 kg explosives) needs to be handled with special care.
Liepaja is going to become a non-military sea port. However, its military history regularly reminds of itself. Divers discover unexploded munitions again and again. Nobody has ever seen so much truculent explosives as at the fifth berth.
Author of the article: Alex Alekhin. Photo: Alexander Dadukin.
Old diving boat Aphalina was smoothly turning back at the berth. Then, stopped. Focusing on bubbles coming from the bottom, it started lowering crane lever. “A bit down, to the right, up…” – a man with headphones and throat microphone who contacted the diver commanded. Rusty, shell-covered blunt-nosed bar was hooked like strange bait. “Rocket thrown depth charge … explosives of 26 kilos. Don’t be so worry – it is without blasting fuse. We lifted it yesterday”.
At the berth, the bomb was carefully delivered to the land guards of the 44th squadron. The item placed on wood boards capable to destroy a submarine looked like harmless scrap metal.
Heritage of Ancestors
Each sunken torpedo or minefield area is always marked on navigation maps. Liepaja can be classified as “explosion-dangerous” area. Danish company engaged in deepening the channel at the Military Port agreed to start working only after they got a guarantee that the dredge ship would not trip a mine or anything else. And their fear wasn’t groundless: divers from company MegAkva, making first short-time survey near the fifth berth, detected 16 shells.
Further operations were performed by Riga ASPTR and Liepaja OPRON Shipping. Other companies lack high-level professionals able to deal successfully with such complicated tasks. Two weeks ago, diver - charge hand Vitaly Borisevich started searching for explosion-dangerous heritage of the soviet epoch.
Vitaly was first impressed by numerous shells at the sea bottom – their number turned to be much larger. Not lesser than fifty suspicious items were detected immediately.
- Some shells practically vertically stuck out of the bottom, - Vitaly told. – they did not incidentally, they were thrown overboard. Intentionally. There were probably excessive shells after firing operations and military men got rid of them that way not to draw up reports.
Besides ammunition, there turned to be various kinds of vehicles at the bottom: torpedo platforms, bogie cars and even a passenger car. When it was lifted, experts established that it was the sixth-model partially dismantled Zhiguli with number plate L 59-11 LA registered as stolen for several years. Only after large-size garbage had been removed, it was possible to raise ammunition. Diver’s operations were complicated by one-meter-high ooze layer resulted in terrible mud. Thus, larger portion of work was performed by feel leading to higher risk.
It is too difficult to define state of ammunition, level of its danger. And explosion under water is a guaranteed cause of death of diver.
- Danger of explosion existed during the years when the ammunition was at the sea bottom, - Mr. Danilets said. – Any bringing to anchor or brick or metalware thrown overboard could cause detonation leading to explosion. The berth would not exit any more for sure, despite the fact that all such items were at a depth of 10 meters.
City on Mortar Shell
During ten days, the area of 140 x 10 meters was cleared. However, it was not the end of the work at the fifth berth. There can be plenty of dangerous surprises in ooze at the sea bottom. Their presence will be checked additionally by the mine detecting unit.
- We do not know what we can face here or at the first berth, - Vladimir Danilets admits. – Liepaja was a mine harbor during the tsar period… There can be any items at the bottom. And until we get to know what we have and what we have not, one cannot feel safe.
But all “treasures” of the fifth berth are nothing as against the problem which the city administration of Liepaja try to conceal. The case is that the sunken barge is just behind the bulwark of the Military Port at a depth of 3,5 meters. The barge sank during the Second World War. There were shells weighing half a ton each intended for coastal battery Tosmare aboard the barge. Total weight was not lesser than one thousand tons. Despite the fact that such area is not navigable, there were cases when ships ran off the course. If IT explodes… Latvia will be among the top world news for a long time.
- We consider that if Liepaja is going to become a busy port, we will have to deal with that “mine” as well, - Alexander Dadukin considers. – A port with such ITEM at the sea bottom will not be rated high. Ship owners will discuss several times whether it is reasonable to imperil ships and cargoes. It will be cheaper to lift such item… at low price – only 16 lats per shell.
Calibre for any taste
We were invited to the fifth berth at the very end. Experts managed to lift 52 shells of caliber 76 mm, one 57 mm and one 25 m, 10 detonators and depth bombs during ten days. Total weight of explosives was more than 300 kilos. “Don’t worry. You will see much! – vice-president of ASPTR Alexander Dadukin reassured us.
… Everybody felt that such operation became everyday business for the team of divers. Divers worked quickly because they brought shells nearer to the berth some days ago. Canvas bucket was plunged into water and after several minutes, filled with cargo, it was slowly and accurately got out of water by hand. One of rusty shells strangely hisses… Non plus ultra.
One hour later, two shells 76 mm and 57 mm were afloat. What is it? “The devil take him! I see such twiddly bit for the first time, - president of OPRON Vladimir Danilets was surprised. – Of green color… Maybe chemical? Let’s consult the catalogue. Oh, thermal noise unit. Be careful with it.”
Torpedo Rusty Head
”I, I am a torpedo head … we joked when we were children. However, we had no desire to joke with torpedo head of diameter 530 mm. It was carefully, with some fear, got from the sea bottom and loaded into the land guards trailer. There was the atmosphere of some tension for the first time. 200 kilos of “marine mixture” was under the aluminium cover capable to liquidate a torpedo-boat destroyer. A bit down and it was placed as we needed.
Land guards started loading other items into the truck. Shells were placed on sand. Everything was OK, but suddenly a weighty depth bomb slipped out, striking metal-covered board edge. No problems were caused… Mine picker can make a mistake twice, however, sometimes God have mercy upon him.
— Now we will bring everything to our base in the city, - the battalion chief Ivar Gundars set our mind at rest. – After several days, we will explode it outside the city. We have about 600 kilos of explosives now. We will destroy it in parts.
… Truck Dodge produced in 1957 got under way. Without winking lights and accompaniment. It moved along the city streets with three hundred kilos of death aboard. God save it against any drunken driver moving in the opposite direction!
- By the way, during the soviet period, such ammunition got out of water was stored in water, - some of divers noted – It can become operable due to changed environment. However, our mine pickers gained experience in America. Probably, they know more…
Copyright (c) Petit
Money from the bottom.
While ports operate, diving companies will have much work. It is complicated business, however it is profitable in general. This is the reason why market leaders assume that during the nearest future Latvia will cause serious interest of their foreign colleagues. KV interviewed Alexander Dadukin, Technical Director of ASPTR – the largest diving company in Latvia.
Specifics of such business and diving operations in general: everything needs individual approach. Other companies in Latvia have 1-3 divers. – Certainly, the situation was different during the soviet period, - Alexander Dadukin tells. – ASPTR (Division for Salvage, Rescue, Ship-Raising and Underwater Technical Operation) attached to the Baltic Shipping Company employed 50 divers. However, events taken place ten years ago destroyed the “smoothly running” mechanism. Practically all diving stations were sold out or sold for scrap. However, we managed to preserve some equipment and specialists.
They served as a basis for establishment of business company ASPTR in 1992 (abbreviation similar to that of its predecessor of the soviet period). By the way, Alexander Dadukin recalls the time of changes with pleasure. There was much work to be done, however there was nobody to do it. Moreover, majority of diving operations required serious international certificates.
— We have much work to do now,— A. Dadukin says.— Ships in the Baltic Sea area always have their screws with something wound around. Let it be net or rope. We even removed anchor chain from the screw. There was an interesting situation last winter: ships destroyed their screw due to huge water ice. The problem cannot be solved without divers: ships are registered to enter the port of Riga several months in advance, however, cargo cannot wait. So, we cut off bent screw parts for a ship to reach the next port and avoid any demurrage. There was much work aimed at removal of hull holes as well.
Savages of Depths
If to add regular survey of underwater part of vessels to meet requirements of insurance companies, one can conclude that the market has vacant niche for new players.
However, Dadukin has another opinion. According to him, about 40 divers employed by dozens of small companies provide their services in Latvia at present. It is enough. Moreover, many companies are specializing in offering simple operations: hull cleaning, bottom survey. They have to wait for new orders for rather long time and divers normally have other permanent jobs.
As to complicated diving operations, two companies only – BMGS and ASPTR can offer them. There is no severe competition between them for many reasons. First, they have considerable experience gained during implementation of joint projects. So, when Liepaja Port waterway was cleared, BMGS was engaged in underwater construction, ASPTR – raised sunken ships. Second, professional divers of our country have friendly and regardful relations.
However, the situation is not the same in respect of numerous small companies and illegal divers.
- Paradox is that no license is required to perform diving operations in Latvia, - Dadukin says. – So, the situation is the following: a man obtained the certificate at any diving club considers that it is enough to earn money. The result is that such people die, one or two men every year, or seriously ruin their health. I would like to note that during last 156 years, there was no any professional diver died in Latvia.
Moreover, such “underwater savages” cause dumping, negatively effecting the market. So, non-professional diver is ready to clear the ship’s bottom within six hours for 25 lats only. Without any support, acting at his own risk. While services provided by diving station within seven hours cost minimum 200-250 lats.
— In general, small companies do not cause much problems to us, - Dadukin admits. – They are not competitive in such area. And I do not believe that somebody will establish a company, occupying our niche. It is very difficulty. Risk is not profitable.
It is difficult and expensive. For example, modern diving suit costs about several thousand dollars. And professional mask – to 15 thousand. Without mentioning other investments and diving equipment updated on a regular basis.
- If a serious customer sees that diver performs operations with old diving suit on, you will probably work with such customer for the last time, - Dadukin explains. Even to survey the ship bottom, we have to use a professional digital camera and not a simple underwater camera. These are present-day requirements: while diver is still surveying the ship, photos of damages are e-mailed to the ship owner and the insurer. Nobody will wait for 24 hours. Business efficiency also depends on the fact that diver should “play safe”. It is most vividly seen when ships are lifted from the bottom.
- I once observed how people tried to save money, ignoring such factors, - Alexander Dadukin recalls. -
The team decided to finish work earlier, without getting the ship to the port. “Ship is afloat – it is good”. In the morning the ship sank again, meaning that all work should be done anew.
Latvian divers get orders not only from Russia, Lithuania or Estonia. Customers from Denmark and Sweden are interested in their services as well. However, Alexander Dadukin perceives such offers cautiously.
— It is reasonable to fulfill orders from foreign customers only if your company is a subcontractor, i.e. all formalities with the government and their ecologists are settled by the person other than you, - he explains. – Some incidental damage to environment can disrupt your business or reputation. And do not hope that you will earn much money abroad. They order your services to pay lesser.
Alexander Dadukin tells that some time ago divers were seeking happiness and money in Ireland. They used terrible equipment, without any observance of safety norms; in general, they provided complicated diving services for very inconsiderable remuneration. Finally, they returned home and foreign countries do not attract them any more.
However, our depths are very interesting to western divers, in Alexander Dadukin opinion. He believes that large Scandinavian companies will have much interest in our ports soon. Most probably, it will not be like direct intervention or purchase of companies with personnel, or diving franchise advantageous to both parties. Our party will get international brand and brand holders – an opportunity to sell here their second-hand diving equipment and facilities. However, Mr. Dadukin thinks that his company does not need such solution: their own brand is OK.
Source: Merchant Baltic Daily