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Site 23: Offshore Unexploded Ordnance and Wrecks

Site History and Background

Nautical chart showing unexploded ordnance
Locations of unexploded ordnance and wrecks
(Ridolfi, 2005e)

Per the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay, the Makah Tribe reserved "[t]he right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations."  In 1996, acting under its responsibility to protect United States fisheries and to provide for the management of fishing under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service promulgated a regulation that established a limit on the total number of Pacific whiting fish to be taken in any year, as well as a framework for allocating these fish to the Hoh, Makah, Quileute, and Quinault Tribes [50 CFR § 660.324].  The regulation stipulated coordinates that identified "usual and accustomed" fishing areas for the Tribes, extending to 125°44' W longitude, or about 40 U.S. nautical miles into the ocean off the coast of Washington.

Eight unexploded ordnance locations identified on NOAA nautical charts, one submarine wreck, and two known aircraft wrecks are situated within this limit and so are within the Makah Tribe's recognized "usual and accustomed" fishing areas.

Seven offshore unexploded ordnance and unexploded bomb locations reported between 1973 and 2002 are marked on the 28th edition of NOAA's nautical chart no. 18480, "Approaches to the Strait of Juan de Fuca: Destruction Island to Amphitrite Point" (NOAA, 2002).  An additional location in the same zone has been added to more recent charts (NOAA, 2004a).  On some older nautical charts, the area encompassing these locations is marked as "Exercise Area" (1966 through 1978), "Submarine Transit Lane Sierra Altair" (1978), or "W-601 Naval Operating Area" (1978 through 1989) (NOAA, 2004b).

The eight unexploded ordnance locations are situated approximately 22 to 40 U.S. nautical miles off the coast of Cape Flattery, at a depth of 63 to 89 fathoms (approximately 380 to 535 feet).  Table 1 lists the latitude, longitude, depth, and distance from the shoreline of these eight locations.

Table 1: Offshore Unexploded Ordnance and Wreck Locations
No. Label on Charts Latitude
(N)
Longitude
(W)
Depth
(fathoms)
Depth
(ft)
Distance from Shoreline
Shoreline (US naut. mi)
Ordnance
1 UNEXPLODED BOMB PA (Rep 1973) 1 48° 25’ 125° 29.25’ 70 420 Cape Flattery 30.3
2 UNEXPLODED ORDNANCE (Rep 1985) 1 48° 26’ 125° 17.75’ 89 534 Cape Flattery 22.1
3 UNEXPLODED ORDNANCE PA (Rep 1989) 1 48° 23.25’ 125° 40’ 77 462 Cape Flattery 36.8
4 UNEXPLODED ORDNANCE PA (Rep 1989) 1 48° 20.75’ 125° 43.5’ 78 468 Cape Flattery 39.6
5 Obstn 65 Unexploded Bombs 1, 2 48° 21’ 06.9” 125° 19’ 33.4” 63 378 Cape Flattery 23.9
6 Obstn 64 Unexploded Bombs 1, 2 48° 21’ 18.5” 125° 19’ 42.6” 63 378 Cape Flattery 23.9
7 UNEXPLODED BOMB PA (Rep 1973) 1 48° 10.25’ 125° 31’ 12.3" 80 480 Cape Alava 31.3
8 Unexploded Ordnance 2 48° 19’ 24.8" 125° 41’  78 468 Cape Flattery 38.5
Wrecks
  Submarine USS Bugara 3 48° 26.8’ 124° 46.5’ 165 990 Tatoosh Island 3.8
  F6F-3 Hellcat, BuNo 418923 48° 20’ 125° 20’ n.s. n.s. Cape Flattery 30
  FG-1D Corsair, BuNo 88161 3 n.s. n.s. n.s. n.s. Neah Bay 0.25

USS Bugara, c. 1969
USS Bugara, c. 1969
(NavSource.org)

Also of concern in the offshore area are wrecks of Navy ships and aircraft, including the submarine USS Bugara, as well as at least two military aircraft (Grant et al., 1996).

The Balao-class diesel submarine USS Bugara was launched in 1944, saw action in World War II and the Korean War, and served until it was decommissioned in 1970.  In March 1971, the Bugara was authorized for disposal as a target for live-warhead evaluations to be conducted in the summer of 1972.  While being towed to the disposal area, roughly 100 miles off Cape Flattery, the submarine started taking on water and sank in the early morning of June 1, 1972.  The Bugara disappeared below the surface at latitude 48°26.8' N, longitude 124°46.5' W, approximately 3.8 miles from the Tatoosh Island lighthouse; the charts for this location indicate a depth of 165 fathoms (990 feet) (Grant et al., 1996).  In preparation for disposal, potentially hazardous materials had reportedly been removed from the submarine (Grant et al., 1996), but it is not clear whether the removal would be considered thorough by current standards.

In addition, at least two military aircraft are known to have gone down within the Makah fishing waters, both of them single-seat World War II-era fighter aircraft.  On May 20, 1945, a Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (BuNo) 41892, went down as a result of pilot error; the aircraft sank 30 miles west of Cape Flattery at latitude 48°20' N, longitude 125°20' W (Grant et al., 1996).  On September 19, 1948, a Goodyear FG-1D Corsair, BuNo 88161, went down in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Ό mile north of Neah Bay, because of fuel system failure over water (Grant et al., 1996).  Neither aircraft has been recovered.

The Tribe is concerned about the hazards, as well as possible contamination, related to unexploded ordnance and ammunition.

Activities to Date

Representatives of the Makah Environmental Restoration Team met with representatives of the U.S. Navy at Neah Bay on August 1, 2006.  Information related to Site 23 was provided to the tribal liaison for the Navy, and the two parties discussed the possibility of the Tribe and the Navy working together to evaluate the feasibility of removing the ordnance and wrecks from the sea bottom.  The Navy's tribal liaison suggested that representatives of the Makah Tribe could prepare a presentation for one of the regular meetings between the Tribe and the Navy.  The Makah Environmental Restoration Team will follow up with the Navy and explore the possibility of a collaborative removal action for Site 23.

Planned Activities

The Tribe considers this site a lower priority (Priority C). The following activity is planned for 2006 to 2010:

  • The Tribe will continue discussions with the U.S. Navy and NOAA to develop an action plan for addressing the potential hazards.
Additional Information: