22.07.2019: Bluie East

Bluie East

We enter Ikateq Sound under power. From quite a distance we can see the old rusty crane on the north shore. The anchor drops to a depth of 18 m. We have arrived. Ahead of us lies the abandoned US airbase Bluie East 2. - a rusty relic of the Second World War. The crane stands on a dilapidated dock, above which we can see the about 1500 meter long airstrip which runs parallel to the shore. We cannot make out much more from the ship as the military installation, which was built up pretty well over night in 1942, lies on a high plateau, which is difficult to see into. The first overall impression is caught by Tim, our cameraman. He starts up his drone, which then flies over the area of about one square km and he can’t believe his eyes. There are many trucks with curved bumpers like the ones in old films. We recognize the burnt out and collapsed structure of an aircraft hangar, steam boilers, and rusty brown barrels. Barrels everywhere.

200 liter barrels: single ones, some piled up in wild heaps or some that are neatly stacked. Thousands – probably much more than ten thousand. Simply abandoned in Greenland’s natural surroundings. All of the barrels have three letters stamped into their sheet metal lids: USA. After 1942 Bluie East 2, in this no man’s land in the Arctic, was used for refueling American war aircraft on their way to nazi- Germany. Many military rescue operations started from here as well. This ended in 1947. From one day to the next, the Americans abandoned Bluie East 2 – just dropped everything and left. Everything! In the following years, the Greenlanders dismantled what they themselves could make use of.  The junk and many thousands of barrels remained behind. To this day. Not marked in any nautical charts or in any manuals. And now we are here and are deeply impressed. We are amazed at the amount of materials, amazed at the historical burden left on this place and amazed at the morbid charm of the scene.

We stay here for two days. From morning to evening. We explore the site, take soil samples and document everything with photos and film footage. Then, Bluie East 2 could soon change radically. Finally after more than 70 years it is to be cleaned up. But not from those who left this mess behind – the Americans. No. They abandoned their responsibilities in the fifties when they entered a contract with Denmark, which was back then in charge of Greenland. In simple terms it was the American interests which were put down in writing. According to the motto – we saved your butt from the nazis and now you can get rid of the garbage. Denmark signed and then did nothing for decades. Not until 2018 when a contract was signed with Greenland, which stated that Denmark would provide a total of almost 26 million euros to clean up what the Americans had left behind. There are supposedly 30 US military installations from the Second World War on this, the largest island in the world.

Through a tender procedure, a Greenlandic company called 60 North has been chosen to finally dispose of Bluie East 2. A mammoth task. On the one hand there is a gigantic amount of materials and on the other hand a difficult logistic problem. The air base can only be reached by air or by ship and only in the summer ice-free months July and August. In addition, heavy machinery is necessary to remove the contaminated soil. And, Bluie East 2 could be a ticking time bomb. Aviation fuel, other fuels, fuel oil and greases were obviously transported in the barrels. Many of these were not empty. During the years some had burst and spilt out their contents. The soil in the region could be seriously contaminated. And toxic substances could be washed into the sound every year with the melting snow. In order to determine this, we have taken samples of the soil. Raimund Funke, of the Institute for Environmental Analysis in Möhrendorf in Bavaria, will precisely analyze the 34 samples we have taken. Then we will know more.

Some people in Tasiilaq, the nearest larger settlement, have their own opinions on the topic of Bluie East 2: they wish that any possible toxic substances be removed instantly but the rest of the junk should remain. This we can understand. There is already a sort of Bluie East 2 tourism in Tasiilaq: Occasionally guests are taken in small motor boats to the US airbase to have a look at this military junk yard. This is at least a small source of income for this community, which is otherwise characterized by unemployment. Arved gets to the heart of the issue of the possible environmental danger on this former US military airbase when he says that the American laws on environment are very strict and this is a good thing. One would go to prison in the USA for the filth and mess that was possibly left behind in Greenland…



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Friday, 1. June 2018