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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Getting Blown Up at Sea

I received the Munitions at Sea Handbook from the Defense Ammunition Center yesterday. I've been a fishermen for twenty plus years. As far as I can recall, this is the first time I ever got one of these pamphlets. 'Bout time.

A lot of people don't realize that fishermen get blown up at sea as a result of unexploded ordnance. Torpedoes, bombs, mines, etc., get towed up in nets and other fish gear and get hauled back to the boat. By the time a captain and crew realize what they have, it's too late. You think of stuff like this happening in Afghanistan or Vietnam. You don't think of it happening in the U.S.

Where I live, most everyone knows - personally or by way of a friend - someone who has either lost his life or was seriously wounded by a bomb. There are also those who went missing at sea with no apparent explanation. What happened to them? No one will ever know. It's possible they ran afoul of an old mine or torpedo.

The photo on the cover of the pamphlet is pretty frightening. I'm not sure the scan illustrates it clearly, but the pamphlet shows a crewman in short sleeves leaning over the net at the stern of the boat. Inside the net is what looks like a long, cylindrical bomb. I don't know who that crewman is, but if he's around, if his crew mates are around, they can consider themselves very lucky. These munitions are deadlier now than when they were built because the years of dormancy have made them very sensitive and unstable. As the pamphlet states: MUNITIONS ARE DESIGNED TO BE DANGEROUS!

Munitions can look brand new or they can be almost unrecognizable. However, fisherman and other mariners have an intuitive sense of things that come out of the sea. They know when something looks wrong. They also know when something looks right, or valuable, like a sea treasure. A brand new bomb looks wrong, very wrong. An encrusted one . . . that's where it gets confusing -- and tempting. For example, a torpedo or large aerial bomb encrusted with marine growth might look like an old revolutionary war cannon. The temptation might be to get it aboard, hammer off the growth and get a closer look. Fishermen are the quintessential seekers of mysterious fortune. They dream of riches from the sea. To a fishermen, a bomb from the deep can be like the siren call of untold wealth and happiness.

For more info on munitions from the sea contact the U.S. Army's Safety Education Website. Or call (918) 420-8919.


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