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Divers report mercury leaking from 1944 shipwreck

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DIVERS have been asked to collect samples of mercury thought to be leaking from the wreck of a minesweeper that sank near the Minquiers during the Second World War amid concerns it could affect local fish stocks.

Divers have reported seeing the toxic heavy metal on the wreck of the M343, which was sunk by the Allies a few weeks after D-Day in 1944.

Writing in today’s JEP, Kevin McIlwee, from Jersey Marine Conservation, said divers began seeing pools of mercury a few years ago.

He has reported the sightings to the authorities and the group is planning further visits to the wreck. They are aiming to use a remotely operated vehicle to collect samples.

‘We are prepared to help Marine Resources as much as possible in resolving the problem,’ he said.

‘Through grants and donations we now have the ROV, which can go to that depth, and using our 2020 funding we hope also to be able to measure chemical content in the water column.’

A pool of mercury in the wreck of M-343

In June 1944, the M343 was attacked by the Royal Navy and Polish Navy as it was transporting weapons and armaments from St Malo to Cherbourg, which were both still in German hands.

The wreck lies in an area that makes diving challenging because of the tides.

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On previous dives, pools of mercury were seen within the wreck but now it has been seen in large quantities on the rusting deck of the warship.

The government has issued a statement that says: ‘Following a report of a possible legacy marine pollution issue on a shipwreck off Jersey’s coast, officers are investigating the report, which will include establishing what remedial action, if any, needs to be taken.’

A recent study found levels of pollutants in bottlenose dolphins along the Normandy coast to be among the highest reported for whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The research, which was published in Scientific Reports, looked at levels of persistent organic pollutants, POPs, in the blubber, and mercury in the skin of bottlenose dolphins in the Normanno-Breton Gulf.

The area has one of the largest populations of bottlenose dolphins in Europe.

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