Royal Navy divers have been called in to clear explosives from a wreck in the South Atlantic. The clearance of the wreck allowed MoD salvage teams to start safely removing the trapped oil within the holding tanks of the wreck.
The operation is due to be complete by mid-August, allowing the wreck to remain safely in place as a haven for marine life.
The MOD team has said that although outside of UK waters – and therefore not protected in statute in the same way as some of the wrecks around the UK coastline – the Darkdale is the final resting place of the majority of her crew and will be treated with utmost respect.
They were deployed to St Helena to work on the RFA vessel Darkdale, a freighting tanker which refuelled warships during World War Two.
RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) vessel Darkdale became the first British ship sunk south of the equator during the war when U-68 slammed four torpedoes into her side as she lay at anchor off Jamestown in the early hours of 22 October 1941.
The ship was split in two by the explosion, caught fire and sank within five minutes, remaining at a depth of 42 metres.
In 2010, during a winter storm, the wreck released some of the oil that she had been carrying as cargo, leading to calls from the islanders who live in the British Overseas Territory for the Ministry of Defence to step in and prevent an environmental hazard.
Team members are conscious of sensitivities too – 41 of Darkdale’s crew went down with the ship.
Using specialist equipment, divers were able to remain at depth for prolonged periods and went on to remove 38 large projectile items, totalling around 80kg of high explosives.
Lieutenant Olly Shepherd, who led the team, said: “It was an extremely challenging and remote location to work in, but the team performed exceptionally and we have successfully cleared the wreck of a significant explosive hazard.