- WW2 shipwreck V-1302 John Mahn was found leaking toxic chemicals in the North Sea.
- The German ship was initially used as a fishing trawler.
- The Kriegsmarine later converted it into a patrol boat during World War Two.
- The Royal Air Force bombed the vessel off the Belgian coast in February 1942.
- The wreck currently lies at a depth of 115 feet (35 m).
WW2 Shipwreck of V 1302 John Mahn
A WW2 ship sank by the Royal Air Force in 1942 is spilling out toxic chemicals into the North Sea. Reiherstiegwerft, a German company, built the ship in the port of Hamburg, Germany. The vessel, originally launched as a fishing trawler on 18th June 1927, was later purchased by Ebeling and transformed into the BX 221 military escort.
On 28th September 1939, the German Navy the “Kriegsmarine” requisitioned the ship, sending the re-modelled trawler to the 13th Vorposten-Flottille, where its name was changed again to V 1302.
The John Mahn V 1302 actively participated in World War Two in a number of coastal roles. On its last mission, it accompanied more than 200 vessels escorting the Prinz Eugen and Scharnhorst through the English Channel to German ports. However, at 3:53 PM on 12th February 1942, the John Mahn and another ship, the Freiburg, were attacked by British Bombers.
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The John Mahn fought bravely, and the two ships managed to destroy one of the bombers, but it could not hold out for much longer for the ship was riddled with machine gun fire. Additionally, two bombs had exploded across the ship’s boiler room and its stern causing further ruin. Surprisingly towards its end, the sinking ship still managed to hit multiple nearby bombers.
Left with no other choice, the crew was forced to evacuate. Luckily, nearby ships managed to save 26 sailors on board. Unfortunately, a total of 12 servicemen lost their lives. The shipwreck now lies about 115 feet (35 meters) deep in the North Sea off the Belgian coast.
Research conducted in 2020
In July 2020, a research team studied samples extracted from the wreck’s steel hull. The results showed a concoction of hazardous chemicals around the wreck in addition to high levels of metals like such as nickel and copper present in the bunker the shipwreck lays in.
“At these concentrations, they are all harmless,” confirmed De Rijcke.
The analysis further highlighted that the wreck possessed a high level of biodiversity. Fish, crabs, and marine plants used the shipwreck as an artificial reef. Interestingly, microorganisms across the wreckage were found adapting to the chemical leakage.
Professor Andrew Turner, from the University of Plymouth, explained that all sunken ships release contaminants to a certain degree. However, the severity of the problem depends on the chemicals involved and the size of the shipwreck.
Doug Helton of the Emergency Response Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also shared his views. Helton expressed that it is necessary to assess the wrecks cautiously. An early assessment is always better than an expensive clean up, he explained.
New research on the John Mahn was published in October 2022. The study found toxic pollutants, such as arsenic and explosive compounds, in the samples gathered from the ocean floor. Additionally, in agreement with the previous research, the researchers found that the chemicals were altering the ocean floor microbiome.
Josefien Van Landuyt, an expert on marine biodegradation, shared her opinion on the impacts of shipwrecks on marine ecosystems. “The general public is often quite interested in shipwrecks. They possess historical value. However, the potential environmental impact of these wrecks is often overlooked,” she explained.
According to the researchers, it is estimated that shipwrecks worldwide collectively contain approximately 20.4 million tons of petroleum products. Hundreds of thousands of shipwrecks contribute to this marine bio-degradation.
It is undeniable that these recent findings reflect the importance of protecting our environment. It all boils down to one question: should we preserve the environment or the history? If we choose to ignore the problem, these shipwrecks will continue to pollute marine ecosystems for decades to come.