16 May 2006

Ferries caught in WWII bomb alert


About 250 ferry passengers and crew are stranded on ships after a 500lb (227kg) bomb was found in the River Mersey.

The explosive, from World War II, was discovered by the Royal Navy at Twelve Quays dock, Birkenhead.

The Mersey Viking and Dublin Viking, travelling from Dublin and Belfast, have been waiting since the early hours of Tuesday to dock.

Navy divers are currently moving the 7ft (2.1m) device out to a safe area of the Irish Sea to detonate it.

The Wallasey tunnel and a Merseyrail line was closed for about 45 minutes when the operation began, but Merseytravel said disruption was kept to a minimum.

The German penetration bomb is being moved to be detonated in deeper water in the Irish Sea before the two Norfolk Line ferries will be allowed to dock.

The Mersey Viking, which has 64 passengers and 55 crew, and the Dublin Viking, which has 81 passengers and 46 crew, arrived in the early hours.

Commander Chris Davies, from the Royal Navy, told the BBC that the bomb was a German 500lb air-drop explosive.

He said: "It would cause a significant blast if it detonated.

"The measures that we have put in place with Merseyside Police and the Liverpool port authorities ensure public safety and the remainder of the operation is to minimise disruption to the city and the Port of Liverpool.

Navy teams are moving the device from the Mersey out to sea

"We routinely carry out these operations and they [the Navy team] are towing the device at a sufficient length, so that if it did detonate, they would be safe."

A Navy spokeswoman said a lifting bag was attached to the bomb to raise it to a depth of 3m (9ft).

"They then attached a tow line and are currently towing it at slow speed to North Bar Light, a safe area identified by the Coastguard," she said.

"Once they get there, a diver will go down and attach plastic explosives to the device in order to detonate it."

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