An elite police unit from Brno has headed to Bosnia and Herzegovina to clear vestiges of the war in Bosnia 17 years ago: unexploded mortar bombs in the winding Sava River. Divers from the elite squad – working in poor visibility, underwater – will understandably have to proceed with extreme caution: an estimated 150 mortar shells litter the river bottom.
Divers from the explosive ordnance disposal squad based in Brno are ranked among the very best and are used to working in tough conditions: but their latest mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina arguably raises the bar. Over nine days, members of the elite team will work to remove and defuse unexploded mortar bombs that have rested in mud at the bottom of the Sava River for 17 years. Given that a single 200 mm 20 kilogram bomb has a large blast range, the mission will need to proceed only with the utmost caution. The head of divers in the Brno unit, Filip Lipovský, told Czech TV he was certain the team is up to the task:
“When we were first asked if we could do it, I replied that I thought that we could. I have a very good team behind me. At the same time, I asked each member of the squad if the level of risk was acceptable. They all said it was. But you have to treat munitions like this with respect: we’re not going over there to just pull any old thing out of the water.”
The team operating on the Sava River will have to adjust to conditions ‘on the ground’: as officials have pointed out the river itself – as wide as 200 metres in places – will not be easy to cover. Sonar will be used to try and detect deadly mortars shells first; then, divers will be sent in to scope the area. The unit’s Filip Lipovský makes clear no one is underestimating the risk:
“We are going to be pulling out some of the largest shells, 120 mm... and it’s probably the first time something like this was attempted. I highly doubt any insurance company would insure a diver/specialist who will be manipulating explosive devices, underwater, with little visibility, against the current; putting them in a basket or attaching them to a line so they can be removed.”
The head of the unit, Lubomír Znojil, suggests meanwhile, that while on the one hand the mission is a challenge to be met, he personally will be happier once things wrap up:
“We’re used to similar kinds of work but we’ve never attempted a project as big as this before, in such a wide area as the Sava. It’s an unusual feeling to ‘return to the war’, so to speak. We don’t know what kind of condition the munitions will be in, whether they will be active and there is really a lot... I have to admit I will be happier once it is over and each of us has returned home to our families, safe and sound.”
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