Disarmament Mission on South Georgia | Polarjournal
The only inhabited place on South Georgia is Grytviken, the former whaling station. This was also the case in 1982, when Argentine military occupied the island. The area around the station is still suspected to contain unexploded ordnance and other potentially dangerous parts from the war. Picture: Michael Wenger

The 1982 Falklands conflict between Britain and Argentina still reverberates today. On the one hand, politically, as Argentina continues to stake its claim to the islands in the South Atlantic. But the conflict is also still visible in the environment, especially in residues of ammunition and other equipment from the period. Even on South Georgia, where the conflict began, legacies are still suspected. To find and dispose of them, specialists from the British armed forces are needed.

After the last landmine on the Falkland Islands was officially blown up in mid-November, more attention is now being paid to the other theatre of war in the Falklands conflict, South Georgia. As announced by the British Navy, a three-people team of explosive ordnance disposal experts was on a 10-day mission around Grytviken, searching for leftover munitions, unexploded ordnance and other military equipment. The team was successful, discovering munitions and rocket motors from the battle for Grytviken. These pieces are potentially dangerous to the scientists stationed on King Edward Point, as well as to wildlife and tourists. For the latter in particular are often unaware that a campaign had also taken place on the island in 1982.

In order to ensure that the parts found do not cause any more damage, they are usually blown up by the experts. For a mere removal on board the ship would be just as dangerous. Image: Royal Navy

On April 3, 1982, fighting between British Royal Marines and Argentine Special Forces had began with an attack by Argentine Special Forces and a ship. Thereby, the British succeeded in shooting down an Argentine helicopter and severely damaging an Argentine warship. Yet, the latter was able still to fire a few salvos towards Grytviken. Thereupon the British soldiers surrendered and Argentine military took control of the island. Almost three weeks later, special forces of the British Army, together with helicopters and ships, attacked the Argentine forces at Grytviken from different sides. In the process, the hills were hit with projectiles from the ships. During all the fighting a lot of ammunition was fired, some of which could still be lying in the hills around Grytviken today. Since Grytviken is the centre of South Georgia and numerous tourists also go ashore here (and sometimes walk up the hills), such clearing operations are very important.

HMS Forthis a new patrol vessel of the British Navy. The ship with a displacement of 2,000 tons, carries a crew of almost 60 and can reach a maximum speed of 24 knots (45 km/h). Its very shallow draft allows it to operate close to shore, as here near King Edward Point. Image: Royal Navy

The team of experts arrived in South Georgia on the new British patrol vessel HMS Forth, which has been on duty in the region since April 2020, its third visit to the British Overseas Territory. With its 4.5 metre draught, the new patrol vessel is ideal for operations close to the coast. But the fact that the ship has no specific ice class makes it difficult to operate in Antarctic waters. To travel from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia, a special British Air Force Atlas A400M had to fly ahead and look for icebergs. Since parts of the now broken apart iceberg A68 are still floating in the region, this action was necessary. Nevertheless, the ship also used its voyage to conduct some training missions with the fisheries control vessel Pharos SG. In addition, a 3-day training for personnel was held at Husvik, another old whaling station. The Royal Navy said in a statement that the visit and missions had been a complete success. With the return of HMS Forth, wintry calm now returns to Grytviken Bay.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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