A trawler of the Cape-based Viking Fishing company this weekend netted what police believe was a World War Two-era depth charge.
Viking group financial director Rory Williams says the rusty object was trawled up about 90 nautical miles from Cape Agulhas.
The Cape Times reported the device measures “about two metres in diameter and roughly 1.5m long”.
Williams says trawlers can usually not drop heavy objects brought up in the nets back overboard. Such objects are normally returned to harbour where a crane is used to remove them.
In this case the trawler returned to port and the rusty object was placed next to a dumpster. Williams adds that neither crew members or employees had known what it was but an engineer with the company, who had been in the navy, identified it as a dangerous weapon.
Police were called and they had immediately cordoned off the area.
Williams says sniffer dogs had no difficulty in identifying it as containing explosives.
“Buildings were evacuated and police disarmed it. They took out the detonator. As far as we know, the (depth charge) was armed. Why it didn’t explode, we don’t know,” Williams said.
Depth charges are anti-submarine weapons intended to damage or destroy submarines through the shock of a nearby explosion. The standard British depth charge, carried by Royal Navy and South African warships was the Mk VII, weighting 191kg and filled with 130kg of TNT.
It is the second incident involving unexploded remnants of war in SA in a month. Kwazulu-Natal police last month found nine rusted shells on a Durban beach.
Other than shells and depth charges, naval contact mines also pose a hazard. German raiders mined South African waters during both world wars. In 1917 the Wolf laid 25 mines off Dassen Island north of Cape Town and a further 29 off Cape Agulhas. These sank four ships and damaged two others.
In 1940 the Atlantis dropped 92 mines around Cape Agulhas while passing. This sank one ship ad damaged another. Some of the mines were recovered by South African minesweepers but the remainder, believed to have drifted into deep water, are still there. One other ship was sunk by a mine off Cape Town during World War Two while two were damaged.
Pic: Sailors loading a Mk VII depth charge onto a depth charge thrower aboard the Flower-class corvette HMS Dianthus during World War Two.