Information available from the Ministry of Defence under Freedom of Information (FoI) confirms the dangers posed by uncleared ordnance at the Jurby sea-bombing range off the North West of the Isle of Man.
The range was the focus of a closure campaign for two decades by the Celtic League and the League (with others) successfully contested by-law changes in the 1980s which would have extended its use.
The range was a considerable defence asset to both the Ministry of Defence and the United States Air Force who effectively operated the range under RAF/NATO auspices for the last twenty five years of its operational life.
Isle of Man newspapers some years ago carried graphic colour images of the extent of the pollution, showing large, mouldering, discarded aircraft bombs of a size the MoD now admit could be live munitions.
The facility, although of value to the United Kingdom, accrued no income for the Isle of Man and the United Kingdom's failure to pay for its use was sometimes a bone of contention at a time when the Isle of Man (unlike some other dependencies) paid a Defence contribution of several millions pounds to the United Kingdom.
As indicated above, the MoD admit in their document (for the first time as far as we are aware) that the sea-bed debris may include live as well as inert munitions. They also say the munitions only pose no risk «provided they remain undisturbed». Necessarily, this places limitations on and poses a risk to fishermen who access the area which covers a massive area 13km long by 9km wide.
The MoD continue to rule out a clean-up of the site maintaining that;
«Any attempt to clear the sea-bed within, or close to, range areas is unavoidably dangerous for the personnel involved»
However, the MoD are undertaking similar clean up operations at locations in the United Kingdom and their own evidence in relation to other sites where there are discarded munitions highlight the dangers of leaving them to decay 'naturally.
Meanwhile successive Manx governments have 'sat on their thumbs' on this issue unwilling or afraid to confront the United Kingdom and demand a clean-up of the dangerous mess they made. It is perhaps a case of 'out of sight out of mind' until, that is, some ghastly accident occurs!
Ministry of Defence document on the Jurby Range set out below:
«RAF Jurby Head was located on the north west coast of the Isle of Man and occupied three sites:
a) Strike Command Range Unit — Jurby Head (7.21 acre MOD freehold site with right of way to site); b) Northern Quadrant — Ballagarraghyn (0.0022 acre leasehold site); c) Southern Quadrant — Orrisdale (0.186 acre MOD freehold site with right of way to site).
The range operated between 1939 and 1993 under arrangements with the Isle of Man incorporated into local bye-laws.
The function of the station was to supervise and monitor the use of the air weapons range, which stretches for approximately 13km along the mean low watermark and for some 9km out to sea. The bombing exercises were carried out at sea with the use of non-explosive practice bombs.
The main user of the range was the United States Air Force (USAF), but the RAF and other NATO air forces used the range regularly.
Many weapon types were used at Jurby Head ranging from a few lbs in weight to 1,000 lbs. Most weapons were inert, although it is possible that some live ones were dropped.
Information on the use of Jurby head between 1939 and 1950 is contained in Class AIR Piece No 12518, which is held at the National Archives at Kew. The Operations Record Book for RAF Jurby Head1243 Signals Unit for the period 1956— 1965 may also be found in the National Archives at Kew under Class A1R29 Piece No 3215.
Both the Admiralty and the Isle of Man Government have issued Notices to Mariners about the Jurby Head site. These Notices to Mariners identify a range of activities, which should be avoided in, or in the vicinity of, the site.
Current international scientific evidence indicates that munitions on the seabed present no significant risk to safety, human health or the environment, provided they remain undisturbed.
It is not MOD current policy or procedure to undertake seabed clearance of seaward ranges. MOD has no plans to remove munition debris on the seabed.
Any attempt to clear the seabed within, or close to, range areas is unavoidably dangerous for the personnel involved. It would require major and protracted clearance operations. Nor could the removal of all munitions be guaranteed.
R.Bowles MOD DSC-Envl»
See also Celtic News Nos:
1696 TIME UK PAID UP FOR THE MUNITIONS MESS IT HAS CAUSED May 2, 2005 1539 OPEN RANGE FILES - CALL Nov 6, 2004 1526 JURBY RANGE - MoD DOUBLE STANDARDS Oct 22, 2004 1357 DEBRIS-STREWN RANGE AWAITS CLEAN-UP Jan 17, 2004 1111 ARROGANT MoD REGARD IRISH SEA AS DUMPING GROUND Jun 17, 2003
J B Moffatt Director of Information Celtic League