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30 Oct 2023

NATO ships help secure seas by finding and destroying historic sea-mines and other unexploded ordnance

NATO ships help secure seas by finding and destroying historic sea-mines and other unexploded ordnance
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NATO Allied Maritime Command

NATO ships, equipped with mine countermeasure capability, have been carrying out essential work to clear historic mines, torpedoes and other unexploded ordnance from the Baltic Sea, Mediterranean and the English Channel throughout 2023. 

The explosives date back to naval mining and coastal operations during World War I and II, but they still pose a danger to the environment as well as present-day shipping.

Historic Ordnance Disposal Operations, known as HODOPS, not only make the seas safer, they also provide an important opportunity for specialist mine countermeasures crews to practice finding and destroying modern mines and other ordnance.

Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1) has taken part in several HODOPS throughout the year, identifying and clearing a number of historic mines, torpedoes, missiles, shells and bombs.

Operations included searches of Swedish waters north of Gotland, the Netherlands territorial waters and more recently the seas around France.

A successful operation in the vicinity of Stavanger and Kristiansand detected approximately 300 items of unexploded ordnance, which were identified and documented for future disposal.

During Exercises Open Spirit and Exercise Baltops, both in the Irbe-Strait, more than fifty mines were found or successfully destroyed.

Exercise Northern Coasts resulted in ten destroyed historical mines, which could have posed a danger to shipping.

In February, Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two (SNMCMG2) searched the waters around Croatia and Albania, identifying and classifying unexploded ordnance for future disposal operations.

In order to carry out this work, mine countermeasure vessels are fitted with specialist equipment, which includes Hull-Mounted Sonars, Variable Depth Sonars, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles and Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles (ROV).

Sonar is used to search the water and seabed, and a ROV or a diver is sent down to visually confirm an object is in fact ordnance. Acoustic devices scare away marine life from the explosion site before a controlled demolition is carried out. Ordnance can also be lifted out of the sea and destroyed elsewhere if necessary.

The assortment of methods and equipment also gives planners an opportunity to combine and test multiple combinations to ensure ordnance approaches are the safest and most efficient.

“Conducting historical ordnance disposal operations is very beneficial for both maritime safety and for Standing Naval Forces like SNMCMG1,” said the Commander of SNMCMG1, Polish Navy Commander Piotr Bartosewicz. “These remnants of past wars are still posing a real threat and danger to merchant traffic and shipping. As a multinational task group we are united in our purpose to make sea routes safer. Thanks to the commitment of our units, we are able to fulfil that task, while providing good training for our crews.”

Many Allied countries have taken part in 2023 HODOPS, representing the Alliance’s continued commitment to reducing the maritime risks posed by historic ordnance.

SNMCMG1 will soon work alongside the Estonian Navy, to clear unexploded ordnance from the Baltic Sea.

“Historical Ordnance Disposal operations are a daily business for the Estonian Navy, and SNMCMG1’s contribution is warmly welcomed, as always,“ said Estonian Navy Mine Warfare Squadron Commander Ott Laanemets, Commander of the Estonian Navy. “Besides making the Baltic Sea a safer place, historical ordnance operations provide a good opportunity to train with as realistic an ‘enemy’ as possible, which is the prerequisite for combat readiness. In addition, as part of the North European MCM community, my Estonian MCM team is excited to meet old friends and make new ones. We are stronger together, which also contributes to overall readiness to counter any mine or underwater explosive threat.”

SNMCMG1 and SNMCMG2 are two of four Standing Naval Forces that operate under NATO Allied Maritime Command, headquartered in Northwood, United Kingdom.


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