Seattle’s Pier 91 – also known as Smith Cove – as seen
from the deck of Holland America’s Rotterdam.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

Seattle’s KING 5 News has discovered that police and military divers have discovered World War II-era ammunition underneath the new Smith Cove Cruise Terminal, otherwise known as Pier 91.

The report indicates divers first discovered shell casings during a routine security sweep of the area underneath the pier in April of this year.  The casings were harmless.

Conducting additional dives in September – after vessels berthed at the terminal had been using their thrusters to maneuver in and out for months – yielded a potentially dangerous find.  Divers discovered live, highly explosive WWII-era ammunition, as well as 20 to 90 millimeter rounds. 

In two instances, Holland America Line’s Zaandam and Volendam were berthed at the terminal when divers brought live rounds to the surface.

So how did the ammunition get there in the first place?  Smith Cove functioned as a naval pier during the Second World War, and in the course of loading and unloading, it was not considered uncommon to lose a certain amount of ammunition in the bay.  Generally speaking, rounds on the ocean floor are harmless – as long as they are not disturbed.

When a cruise ship ties up sixty years later, however, it uses extremely high-powered thrusters to maneuver itself against the pier, and not tugboats as would have been common in the 1940’s.  The thrusters kick up a generous amount of sediment under the ocean floor, and while the Coast Guard and the Navy say there was never any risk to passengers, they concede it is a problem. 

As such, the Pentagon has tasked the Army, Navy and the Coast Guard with developing a plan to clean up the site under Pier 91.  The project is considered a top priority: only six months remain before the first ships begin calling at Smith Cove for the start of the 2011 Alaska season.

We’ll keep you posted here at From the Deck Chair as we learn more about this story.


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