Specialists from the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces, Mines and Explosive Remnants of War Clearance (NPMEC), in cooperation with the army’s Special Forces Command (SFC), have conducted underwater operations to extract munitions from warships which sank in Kampong Cham province’s Srei Santhor district during the 1970-1975 civil war.
A total of 912 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) have been found.
In a meeting to update progress on January 14, Neang Phat – permanent secretary of state at the Ministry of National Defence and chief of operations in the collection of UXO – said that over the past three months, troops had found and removed shells from underwater and in the villages surrounding the operation area.
He added that the UXO were stored in a safe location away from downtown and under 24-hour guard. The cooperative project is set to continue with a scheduled completion date in early May prior to the rainy season.
Phat explained that government regulations issued on September 30 last year instructed the NPMEC and SFC to form a 55-member unit to implement searches of sunken warships. They have already cleared tonnes of UXO remaining from the war.
Recovery efforts have divided the 150ha within the search perimeter into three zones, labelled as areas of high, medium and low risk.
Major General Mey Sophea, Commander of the UXO Clearance Unit of the NPMEC, said specialists have been working to remove ammunition from two sunken ships, weighing 100 and 200 tonnes, respectively. He noted that the smaller ship had been partly salvaged by local residents who had raided it for scrap metal.
“It is difficult and very dangerous to extract those munitions. The task has required many tools and skills. The ships are in 30m deep water. The shells are now highly reactive and can cause injury when handled,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive on August 30 last year to form a research group for the clearance of UXO leftover from the civil war.