The Malta Independent 24 January 2022, Monday

‘B24 Liberator’ liberated of encumbering nets

Wednesday, 1 December 2021, 15:01 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit (UCHU), within Heritage Malta, in its continuing collaboration with the local ATLAM dive club, has completed another net removal project from one of Heritage Malta's underwater sites - the B24 Liberator aircraft, located off the southern coast of Malta.

Ghost gear - abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear - constitutes around 10% of the plastic waste that enters the world's oceans and seas every year. In addition, it is estimated that around 70% of all floating macro-plastics are made up of ghost gear. The danger in this type of waste is its material durability and buoyancy, persisting in the marine environment for decades. Historic wreck sites attract marine life but also act as catchment areas for discarded fishing gear, entangling and damaging historic remains and marine life. The threat is also there to visiting divers, often unaware of the dangers of ghost gear.

In recent years there has been a growing awareness on the threats posed by ghost gear and a growing number of grassroots initiatives, both locally and internationally have targeted this problem. In Malta, the presence of ghost gear on historic wreck sites has been noted throughout diver surveys and as a result, Heritage Malta, in collaboration with the local ATLAM Sub Aqua Club, has initiated a long-term net removal project on its underwater sites.

The B24 was an American heavy bomber, which throughout the Second World War saw extensive use in all branches of the American Armed Forces and even some of the Allied forces. In early May 1943, Reggio Calabria was subjected to a series of aerial raids by Allied forces, culminating in 6 May bombings. Two waves of B24s, totalling 50 aircraft and coming from North Africa, dropped 110 tons of bombs over the city, mainly targeting the harbour. One of these B24 aircraft developed engine trouble over the city and after jettisoning its bomb load the crew decided to fly back to Malta, often used a haven for damaged aircraft returning from Sicily and Italy. Failed landing attempts at Luqa forced the 10-member crew to ditch the plane in the sea. The wheels were lowered when it hit the surface, flipping the plane upside down, and after floating for a few minutes, the tail section sank first. One member of the crew remains unaccounted for till today, while the other nine survived and were rescued by the Royal Air Force.

The wreck site was discovered in 2015 through a remote sensing survey, at a depth of 56 metres. The aircraft is well-preserved and is today a protected site open for divers and managed by the UCHU. Five divers from Heritage Malta and the ATLAM club participated in a dive to clear the site of ghost gear.


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