More military ammo found under cruise ship terminal

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by SUSANNAH FRAME / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on November 12, 2010 at 12:30 AM

Updated Friday, Nov 12 at 12:41 AM

SEATTLE - More World War II-era ammunition has been brought to the surface from underneath Seattle's busiest cruise ship terminal at Pier 91 in the Magnolia neighborhood.

The KING 5 Investigators broke the story of sunken ammo first discovered by Port of Seattle Police Department divers last month.

Most of what they recovered earlier this fall included harmless objects such as training rounds and empty shell casings. But they also discovered projectiles containing high explosive material.

On Thursday, Port of Seattle divers stumbled onto yet more ammunition at the bottom of Elliott Bay while working on a completely different project: inspecting pier pilings the Port is about to replace.

They brought a projectile to the surface and called explosive experts from the Army to inspect it.

Sources tell the KING 5 Investigators the round contained explosive material, but officially the Army says they suspect it was live, but extensive corrosion prevents them from making a decisive determination.

The site is a priority to take care of because of the unusual scenario of having discarded military ammunition so close to a high human traffic location. Hundreds of massive ships carrying thousands of tourists come in and out of Smith Cove Cruise Terminal in the spring and summer.

Acclaimed underwater munitions expert Jim Barton says all that activity is a concern.

"We are not in imminent danger of an explosion by these munitions, provided somebody doesn't drop something off the pier, somebody doesn't drive a pile off the pier, or a bow thruster (from a cruise ship) ... doesn't exert enough force to turn some loose projectiles on top of each other where it causes a detonation," said Barton.

The Navy used this area as a huge supply depot from World War II through the early 1970's.

When the Port of Seattle turned it into a cruise ship terminal they didn't know Navy ammo had been tossed or dropped off the pier. Jim Barton is surprised Port officials were surprised.

“Let's just get that straight right now. This is for anybody out there that has a pier that was once used by the military. You must expect them to have handled ammunition during whatever war was taking place during the use of that pier,” said Barton. "Wherever munitions have been handled in the past, they have rolled off the pier, they've been dropped out of cargo net. It's perfectly normal, it's expected."

Now the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and the Port of Seattle are in a hurry to figure out exactly what's lurking below so they can clean it up before the big boats come back to Seattle in April.

The Coast Guard says they're taking the new findings seriously.

"The Coast Guard hopes this discovery encourages the Department of Defense to continue to make this remediation project a priority. What was found today magnifies the fact that we don't know what remains down there. We continue to work together with the Department of Defense and the Port of Seattle to ensure the safety of the community," said Lt. Jennifer Osburn, Coast Guard, Sector Puget Sound.

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