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Salvage from U-859, 1973.

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    #21
    From my understanding of Mercury, and it isn't that great (never really studied it during my contaminated land studies), is that elemental Mercury as it would be in the steel containers is not too much of a problem in so far as it is not easily absorbed into the natural environment. It is heavy enough that if a lot were to escape most would settle to low spots but it could be distributed by ocean currents and wave action and become broken up into lots of small beads which gives a greater surface area on which reactions can take place with other elements/compounds in the sea. If it reacts with anything around it to form compounds then it can usually be easily absorbed into living organisms and being a persistent poison does not leave again and then accumulates in larger predators. That is why eating a lot of Tuna can lead to raised levels of heavy metals, especially Mercury, they feed on the fish which feed on the shrimp which feed on the plankton which are the first to absorb Mercury from the sea. You certainly wouldn't want to touch shellfish from somewhere which was contaminated with Mercury.
    Peak District Air Accident Research

    www.peakdistrictaircrashes.co.uk

    Aircraft Wrecks: The Walker's Guide

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      #22
      Hampden98 - sorry. I went back and realised that the story just says it was torpedoed, and I've been back and forth over the Wiki page a few times, knowing it had been sunk by another sub and assumed that this was all on the page. Once again, sorry.

      On 23 September 1944 U-859 was running on the surface, within 23 nmi (43 km; 26 mi) of Penang and the end of her voyage, when she was intercepted in the Malacca Straits by the British submarine HMS Trenchant, which had been forewarned of her arrival date and route by decrypted German signals.[8] In difficult conditions with a heavy swell running and a second U-boat thought to be lurking, Trenchant's commander Arthur Hezlet carried out a snap attack using his stern torpedo tubes, hitting U-859 amidships. The U-boat sank immediately in 50 m (160 ft) of water with several compartments flooded, and 47 men drowned, including her commander.

      Twenty of the crew did manage to escape however, opening the hatch in the relatively shallow sea and struggling to the calm surface. Eleven of the survivors were picked up by HMS Trenchant immediately following the sinking, and the remaining nine were picked up by the Japanese after being adrift for 24 hours and were taken ashore to await repatriation.[9]

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_submarine_U-859
      The Allies were determined that cargo of important stuff was not to get to Japan - there had been blueprints and aero engines sent, amongst other things, so it would be important to make sure that German submarines did not get through, even to the point of trying to track them down using Allied subs, essentially giving away the fact that the Ultra codes were broken should the U-boat be able to report the utterly coincidental interception(!).
      It could be, thinking about it, that the cargo manifest was not known and there could have been on board uranium, beryllium, thallium, zirconium and other bits and pieces apparently needed for atomic enrichment/production (none of this is understood by me, the names are familiar-ish but the stuff could have just as easily been used to make gonks to hang from Japanese rear-view mirrors if you are relying on me for intricate insight) as well as mercury.
      Maybe the West German government was trying to destroy any possible evidence?

      If this stuff was on board what would happen to it when the sub was sunk? And what would happen to it over the near 30 years of sitting on the bottom in a wreck?

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        #23
        The extent to which cargo would be affected while on the bottom would depend upon what it was and how it was being transported. The example of the Mercury being carried in the U-boat which was torpedoed off Norway showed that the Mercury was being carried in sealed steel containers, but exposure to sea water for now over 70 years has lead to the metal virtually disappearing, some were recovered so they could be tested and it was found that the steel was under 1mm thick and was perforating allowing it leak out on to the seabed. Given that the rate of reaction between iron and available oxygen in sea water is in part temperature dependent it would be reasonable to assume that similar containers in the South China Sea would not fair so well being in much warmer water and subject to a higher rate of reaction. As with Mercury the path along which other metals enter the environment would depend on whether or not they were in a bioavailable form (ie can be absorbed into living organisms). A radioactive cargo would not just pose a radio-logical hazard but as many are heavy metals it would present much the same potential dangers as the likes of Mercury and Lead.
        Peak District Air Accident Research

        www.peakdistrictaircrashes.co.uk

        Aircraft Wrecks: The Walker's Guide

        Comment


          #24
          Originally posted by snafu View Post
          Hampden98 - sorry. I went back and realised that the story just says it was torpedoed, and I've been back and forth over the Wiki page a few times, knowing it had been sunk by another sub and assumed that this was all on the page. Once again, sorry.
          Np.
          The reason I asked if it torpedoed itself was because several German U-Boats fell foul of torps that, once fired, malfunctioned and described a large arc before hitting the unfortunate sub.
          I forget the type of torp that did this.

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            #25
            Except the sub was in 'friendly' waters and not very likely to be firing off its torpedo stocks...?

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              #26
              -

              Originally posted by snafu View Post
              Except the sub was in 'friendly' waters and not very likely to be firing off its torpedo stocks...?
              - 859 was on the surface awaiting a Japanese escort to take her into their naval base in Penang.

              - HMS TRENCHANT, on patrol from its base in Ceylon, put a torpedo into
              her breaking her in half.

              - The mercury was packed into her keel in steel flasks, weight approx. 75lbs each.

              - The explosion broke several flasks and a considerable quantity of mercury lying inside the keel was recovered using a ladle.

              - As regards pollution . Who knows? The stuff is so heavy that it would simply sink into the mud once clear of wreck. Dont see too much risk in that.

              - There were sealed tube containers running under the deck casing. It was assumed that these contained cargo. Never got the chance to recover them so contents are open to speculation.

              Comment


                #27
                Originally posted by Stuart48 View Post
                As regards pollution …. Who knows? The stuff is so heavy that it would simply sink into the mud once clear of wreck. Don’t see too much risk in that.
                The pollution risk comes from the mercury being reduced to miniscule 'spots' (for want of a better word) absorbed by the local wildlife/fauna and causing harm that way, very much like the recent alarm over dumped plastic, which is worn down to dust before being eaten by small creatures, that gets into the foodchain by such 'absorbtion'.

                Comment


                  #28
                  Originally posted by snafu View Post
                  The pollution risk comes from the mercury being reduced to miniscule 'spots' (for want of a better word) absorbed by the local wildlife/fauna and causing harm that way, very much like the recent alarm over dumped plastic, which is worn down to dust before being eaten by small creatures, that gets into the foodchain by such 'absorbtion'.
                  I cant argue with you on that point, however first hand experience with this stuff indicates that it has a natural tendency to puddle into pools rather than to disperse into the miniscule droplets you describe. But this is merely a personal observation and whilst I certainly dont discount your opinion I would point out that at that time the stuff had already been lying on the seabed, in highly fished waters, for some 28 years without any noticeable ill effects on the fauna.

                  On the subject of salvable material to be found in a submarine of that period The pressure hulls were of superior quality nickel steel and, as pointed out in an earlier thread, this was steel produced in a pre-nuclear era thus contamination-free. At the time the intention was to raise the hull for the scrap value of that steel, and of course any other ferrous or non-ferrous content. This was not to be.

                  Comment


                    #29
                    Hi Stuart,
                    Just came across this thread by chance. This is Liew here, it's been more than 40 years since we were together on this project. Sorry to hear about Henry. Albert is doing very well in the O&G Diving Industry. I am retired now and was the Diving Advisor for one of the major International Oil Company in Malaysia. Hope you are still accessing this thread.

                    Here is some additional info for the others on this thread. I was the first diver to dive on U-859 with the previous company when we first discovered it with the help of local fisherman. As previously mentioned, the sub was in two sections with a clean cut immediately astern of the conning tower. There was no access into the sub. We had info that there was still a torpedo in the S/B tube. What we did subsequently, was to place a box of explosive in the external tube opening and blew the bow section open. I did access inside this bow section but due to very poor visibility, did not do a thorough search. Some background history: This Malaysian/British Company had the rights to all the wrecks in Malaysian waters at that time (late Sixties) and no one is aware of the value of wrecks. The company even got information of U-859 from the German Government. However, this support was later withdrawn and told not to work on the wreck. I understand from the local divers working with the German company diving on the wreck after the second project mercury recovery, only German divers were allowed to access inside the sub??? I don't believe they did any actual salvage recovery.

                    Mercury recovery: This was a real risky operation (we were very young and did not realised it at that time). The sub was in an upright position and partly buried in the seabed. We were aware the mercury was stored inside the keel of the sub. We had to tunnel down the side of the hull and along the keel (The tunnel could collapse anytime) to access the inside of the keel by burning off the side plate. The mercury was stored inside flask-like steel containers, roughly 4" diameter and 12" high, weighing roughly 90 lbs. There was also loose mercury liquid inside the hull which we scooped up and stored in a site-fabricated open top steel container (roughly 2ft square and 3ft high). Here is the interesting part with regards to mercury poisoning. We have open cuts and scratches on our feet and hands from working on the wreck. We were not aware of mercury poisoning etc and we thought it was comical that it was not easy to stand inside a bucket of mercury. We were also handling it with bare hands without any protection. Currently, Albert and I (coming into our 70 years of age) are still in excellent health and not affected by any effects with direct exposure to mercury. ???

                    BTW I was also involved in the salvage of the French destroyer, Mousquet that was sunk in the first World War (North of U-859 location) and the Japanese Troop/Transport Carrier (Awazisan Maru) that was sunk in Kelantan, Malaysia during the initial invasion of Malaya during WW2 in 1941.

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