Low water levels on Danube reveal sunken Second World War ships

Striking images near Serbia's port town of Prahovo after river drops to lowest level in almost a century

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Europe's worst drought in years has pushed the mighty river Danube to levels ranking among its lowest in almost a century, exposing the hulks of dozens of explosives-laden German warships sunk during the Second World War near Serbia's river port town of Prahovo.

The vessels were among hundreds scuttled along the Danube by Nazi Germany's Black Sea fleet in 1944 as they retreated from advancing Soviet forces, and still hamper river traffic during low water levels.

However, this year's drought — viewed by scientists as a consequence of global warming — has exposed more than 20 hulks on a stretch of the Danube near Prahovo in eastern Serbia, many of which still contain tonnes of ammunition and explosives and pose a danger to shipping.

"The German flotilla has left behind a big ecological disaster that threatens us, people of Prahovo," said Velimir Trajilovic, 74, a pensioner from Prahovo who wrote a book about the German ships.

Workers in the local fishing industry are also at risk, including from Romania which lies just across the river.

Months of drought and record-high temperatures have snarled river traffic on vital arteries in other parts of Europe, including Germany, Italy and France. In Serbia, the authorities have resorted to dredging to keep navigation lanes on the Danube open.

By Prahovo, some of the hulks have narrowed the navigable section on this stretch of the Danube to only 100 metres, from 180 metres.

Strewn across the riverbed, some of the ships still have turrets, command bridges, broken masts and twisted hulls, while others lie mostly submerged under sand banks.

In March, the Serbian government invited a tender for the salvage of the hulks and removal of ammunition and explosives. The cost of the operation was estimated at €29 million ($30 million).

Europe's waterways hit by heatwaves and drought — in pictures

Updated: August 20, 2022, 3:26 PM
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