Bombs? Away! Coast Guard makes part of Gravesend Bay off limits to boaters

Bombs? Away! Coast Guard makes part of Gravesend Bay off limits to boaters
File photo by Gregory P. Mango

The Coast Guard is permanently barring boats from passing through a bomb-littered portion of Gravesend Bay, but the decision makes it less likely that the agency will remove the 1,500 unexploded anti-aircraft shells that experts say could explode.

Late last year, the military force established a temporary safe zone in the football field-sized portion of the bay next to the Brooklyn tower of Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. On June 21, the Coast Guard 20-foot “no sail zone” was made permanent.

The safe zone was first reported by the website UXOINFO.com.

Some say that the safe zone is long overdue to prevent contact with shells that fell off a military barge in a storm 55 years ago. But it wasn’t until October that a group of Brooklyn divers uncovered the ammo, which were designed to explode on contact.

“This safe zone could end up preventing a tragedy,” said Assemblyman William Colton (D–Bensonhurst). “This justifies what we have been saying all along.”

But the safe zone also indicates that the bombs may be a bay booby trap forever. The Coast Guard says that the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for retrieving the ammo, but the Corps has not listed any Gravesend Bay clean-up projects on its web site. And one Corps project manager told the Courier that he hadn’t heard of any bomb removal operation.

Experts have stressed that the bombs are only dangerous if struck by a ship.

“It’s not something to panic about,” said Ken Hayes of Aqua Survey, the company that mapped out the 1,500 shells in November. “The world is littered with ammunition.”

The safe zone does not include an adjacent part of Gravesend Bay where the Department of Sanitation plans to dredge to make way for a waste-transfer station on Shore Parkway and Bay 41st Street, even though some say there could be more bombs littered in that area (see sidebar).

These unexploded machine gun shells are still in Gravesend Bay.
File photo by Gregory P. Mango