WWII Mortar Exploded in Controlled Detonation

The Coast Guard’s Explosives Unit was dispatched on Friday to detonate an unexploded British mortar that was found on Mt. Hlíðarfjall, just west of Akureyri, RÚV reports. The mortar dated back to World War II and was found not far from an area the British occupying forces used for training at the time.

The mortar was found by local teacher Brynjar Karl Óttarsson. “I found [it] last fall and immediately suspected that it was a bomb,” he explained. “I waited  [to report it] because winter was setting in but then I let [the authorities] know about it in the summer and they came yesterday. We went back up there and blasted that bomb to smithereens.”

Brynjar Karl Óttarsson

Brynjar accompanied two Coast Guard specialists and an explosive expert from the British army to the site where the mortar was found and was allowed to observe the controlled detonation.

“Hlíðarfjall is now one mystery poorer, but also a safer place to be,” he wrote in a Facebook post about the experience.

“Dangerous explosive remnants have been found on the mountain in recent years,” wrote Brynjar Karl. “But this is the first unexploded bomb to pop up on Hlíðarfjall since I started making a habit of going there. The cylinder intact and the tail like new. Einu með öllu: ‘one with everything,’ as the saying goes.”

“I got to watch the ceremony that goes along with destroying such a troublesome artifact,” he continued. “Place it against a large rock, attach an explosive device, position yourself at a reasonable distance, relay messages via radio to the appropriate parties about the impending explosion, and then press the button. KABOOM.”

Brynjar Karl Óttarsson

“I was shocked, to be honest. I figured on a sound, but not such a cacophony. Even the veteran jumped: ‘I never get used to this,’ said the Brit. The stillness and peace of the mountain of course magnified the din. The plume of smoke was not as magisterial. That bomb finally got to explode after 80 years. Mission accomplished and back down the mountain before dark.”

Asked if he thought it was possible that there were more unexploded bombs hidden on Hlíðarfjall, Brynjar Karl said it was quite possible, given the area’s history as a military training site. But the location where the mortar was found is well off the beaten track, he assured reporters, and quite a distance from the nearest ski area. Even so, caution is always the best policy, he said. “There’s always associated risk if you’re out in nature.”

Sunken WWII Tanker Still Leaking Oil Into Seyðisfjörður Fjord

The British tanker El Grillo is still leaking oil into Seyðisfjörður 75 years after it was sunk by a German air raid, despite repeated efforts to stop the leak. The Environment Agency of Iceland along with the Icelandic Coast Guard is now assessing the situation. A leak had been spotted in the fjord, and divers from the Icelandic Coast Guard confirmed the leak at the wreck site.

A leak from a different tank

A leak from one of the ship’s tanks had been closed off earlier this spring. The leak this time around was coming from a different tank, situated under the ship’s bridge. The oil leaks out of an entrance which is blocked off by rubbish as well as sediment on the ship deck. The government approved funding up to ISK 38 million ($278,000, €240,000) this spring to stop the leak. The initiative is led by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. The operations last spring focused on stopping the leak by placing concrete over the opening. Those operations were successful but the oil surfaced this time around found its way out of a different part of the ship.

It is believed that higher sea temperature during this time of the year can lead to increased leakage. “According to the results from the dive this spring, and the following operations, the tank did not appear to be leaking. But the leak has appeared now. The temperature of the sea has risen and it is normally then that leaks start to appear around El Grillo,” says Sigurrós Friðriksdóttir, a project manager at The Environment Agency of Iceland. When asked about the size of the leak, is it relatively small compared to the last couple of years. “No, it’s not a lot of leakages and we’ve been in contact with the port of Seyðisfjörður town due to the leak. They estimate that a lot less of oil is surfacing than in the last couple of years,” Sigurrós stated in an interview with RÚV.

Sunken WWII ship

SS El Grillo was sunk after a German air raid on February 10, 1944. Although there were no casualties, the ship was heavily damaged and the captain decided to sink it to remove the ship as a target and a risk. The air raid, which set out from Norway, was comprised of three Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condors. The wreck lies at a depth between 22 to 45 metres, lying almost upright. The site is one of the more popular diving sites in the country.

El Grillo sinking in Seyðisfjörður fjord

Polluting the fjord
A significant amount of bunker oil seeped out into the fjord after the attack, and the subsequent voluntary sinking. Oil dirt can be seen under stones when they are turned, and a foul smell rises. The wreck constantly leaked oil, so cleaning operations have been carried out twice. The last one took place in 2001 when a Norwegian contractor was hired to clean out the estimated 2,000 tons of oil in the wreck. Ultimately, only 90 tons of oil were found and cleaned from the wreck.

The wreck is still leaking oil into the Seyðisfjörður fjord and is affecting local birdlife. Eider duck ducklings can ill handle the oil as it becomes stuck in their feathers and immobilize them. This development can be difficult to spot as seagulls quickly seize the easy prey. Visible oil slicks can be seen in the fjord itself.