Disposal teams have burned 1.6 tonnes of the 16 tonnes of unexploded ordnance (UXOs) that were retrieved from a warship sunk in the Mekong River in Kampong Cham province during the civil war period of the early 1970s. The remaining ordnance will be neutralised and preserved for museum displays.
Mey Sophea, head of the UXO Clearance Unit of the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces and Explosive Remnants of War Clearance (NPMEC-ERW), said on April 6 that the specialist team only burned the old and decayed or rusty ammunition, since it would soon deteriorate anyways. Items burned included artillery rounds, mortar shells and bullets among other varieties.
“There could still be a small amount of ammunition left at the bottom of the ship. We will end this operation after Khmer New Year when the ship is lifted from the water,” he said.
Eam Van, deputy chief of the Underwater Explosive Ordnance Disposal Task Force, said the 1.6 tonnes of ammunition destroyed accounted for 10 per cent of the total amount found and were destroyed between March 31 and April 7.
The other 90 per cent, he said, was in good condition and slated to be neutralised at a mine clearance base called Golden West Headquarters in Kampong Chhnang province between March 31 and May 19, before being brought to a museum for display.
According to Van, the shipwreck was a leftover from the French colonial era. It was mainly used for transport and had a cargo capacity large enough to carry in excess of 100 tonnes of ammunition or supplies.
It was determined that the warship originally belonged to France and was used to transport ammunition to Kampong Cham from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
Known then as Saigon, it was the location of most of the major US military bases during the war. The ammunition was likely provided by the US to support Marshall Lon Nol’s forces in Cambodia during the 1970-1975 war.