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Unexploded Ordnance Complicates Salvage for Grounded Fishing Vessel

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Warning sign at Browns Island, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina (file image courtesy USMC)

By The Maritime Executive 01-08-2020 09:12:00

Lightering operations to remove the fuel from the grounded fishing vessel Sea Angels have begun at Browns Inlet, North Carolina. Operations are expected to continue over the next several days to remove all fuel and oil from the fishing vessel, which ran aground near the shores of the U.S. Marine Corps' largest East Coast base on December 9. 

The total amount of fuel on the vessel is unknown, but the current estimated amount is 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel. 

At about 0815 hours on December 9, Coast Guard Sector North Carolina received a distress call from a crewmember aboard the fishing vessel Sea Angels. The crewmember reported that they had run aground due to mechanical issues and that the four people on board needed assistance. 

A boat crew from Station Emerald Isle and an aircrew aboard a helicopter from Air Station Elizabeth City launched to assist. Once on scene, the aircrew hoisted the four crew members and brought them safely to shore. There were no reported injuries or visible signs of pollution.

The U.S. Coast Guard says that the salvage response to the grounding is complicated by the possible presence of unexploded ordnance in the area around the vessel. Precautions are being taken to ensure the safety of the salvors and the public during the operation.

Browns Inlet runs between two sandy barrier islands on the Atlantic coastline of U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The island to the northeast, Browns Island, has been used as a live-fire training area for naval gunnery, mortars, rockets, artillery and other ordnance since the Second World War. In Browns Inlet, any contact with the bottom of the waterway or any bottom-disturbing activity is strictly prohibited due to the possible presence of unexploded ordnance.

Browns Island itself is very off-limits, but trespassing is an issue. The Marine Corps has warned the curious that since the passage of Hurricane Florence in 2018, even more than the usual quantity of unexploded munitions may be found near the surface in the area (below).

USMC Camp Lejeune public awareness campaign for the hazards at Browns Island, NC, 2019 (USMC)