Bergen (Global Adventures): The Norwegian government has decided to postpone the salvage of submarine U-864, citing technical uncertainties. The cabinet said it needs more answers about risks involved raising the World War II wreck that sank with a hazardous cargo west of the island of Fedje. “We want to conduct more thorough studies to ensure that this is conducted in a manner that is both secure as well as safe for the environment,” said Fisheries Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen.
The former German submarine that now rests on the seafloor at a depth of 492 feet (150 meter) is surrounded by mystery. According to decrypted intercepts of German naval communications with Japan, U-864’s mission was to transport military equipment to Japan, including approximately 67 metric tons (74 tons) of mercury. There was some speculation as to whether U-864 was carrying uranium oxide; however, radiation measurements conducted by the Norwegian Coastal Administration in 2005 could find no traces of the mineral.
According to the passenger list, several high ranking German and Japanese engineers and weapons experts traveled on U-864 when it sunk on February 9, 1945. While en route to Bergen, Norway, the submarine ran aground and had to stop in Farsund for repairs. After a radio transmission was decrypted, the British submarine HMS Venturer was rerouted to intercept the U-boat. One of four torpedoes fired at the German submarine hit U-864 and split the boat in two.
In early 2003, the Royal Norwegian Navy rediscovered the wreck and its hazardous cargo. The mercury contained in 1,857 rusting steel bottles already leaked into the ocean and posed a severe environmental threat. Scientists discovered that about 8.8 pounds (4 kilograms) of mercury leak every year from the 285 foot (87 meter) long former submarine. Attempts using robotic vehicles to dig into the half-buried keel of U-864 were abandoned after the unstable wreck shifted.
After a three-year study, the Norwegian Coastal Administration recommended to entomb the wreck in a 39 foot (12 meter) thick layer of sand and reinforce the structure with gravel or concrete to prevent erosion. However, the proposal of burying the wreck has been criticized by locals and environmentalists concerned about possible future problems.
On November 11, 2008 the Norwegian Coastal Administration awarded a salvage-contract covering the possible recovery of U-864 and the disposal of its hazardous cargo to Mammoet Salvage BV. The Norwegian company did also receive a contract to salvage the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in 2001 and was confident that it could raise the wreck of the U-864 in a safe manner without harming the environment. The Norwegian government approved the operation on January 29, 2009. The cost of raising the wrack and disposing the hazardous cargo was estimated at $172 Million (1 billion Kroner).
The government did not announce a new timeline after its surprise move.