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Protecting the Shipwrecks and our Heritage

A decomposing shoe underwater with several tube worms growing on it

Sailor’s shoe on P.L.M. 27 shipwreck

With so many scuba divers visiting the Bell Island shipwrecks each year, there are concerns about possible looting of artifacts and “souvenirs” from the wrecks. Ocean Quest Adventures is the dive operator that takes visiting divers to the shipwrecks, and they make it a priority to educate divers to “take only photos and leave only bubbles.” Likewise, the Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland & Labrador educates local scuba divers about the importance of protecting the shipwrecks while exploring them.

View video of Navy divers removing unexploded shells from Bell Island shipwrecks with transcript

The Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic) of the Royal Canadian Navy visits the Bell Island shipwrecks periodically to remove any unexploded ammunition that becomes exposed. This includes artillery shells for the stern guns on the ships and boxes of .303 ammunition for the Lewis guns onboard. In July 2019, Navy divers removed dozens of artillery shells from the wrecks of Saganaga and Rose Castle. Removal of unexploded ammunition by the Navy makes the shipwrecks safer for recreational scuba divers to explore and enjoy.

Two Navy divers lift an old artillery shell between two boats

Navy divers lift an unexploded artillery shell recovered from Rose Castle shipwreck

Through the efforts of Bell Islanders and Newfoundlanders, the 1942 U-boat attacks and sinkings of the four Bell Island ore ships were designated as an Event of Provincial Significance in 2011 and then as a National Historic Event in 2019. These designations help promote awareness of the sinkings and their importance to our heritage among Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and visitors to the province.

Certificate of Bell Island U-boat attacks in 1942 as an event of provincial significance

Bell Island attacks: Event of Provincial Significance