An unexploded shell on An Bang Beach, Hoi An

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04 Apr 2017

Unexploded ordnance (UXO) still kills in Vietnam. Victims tend to be poor farmers and their family members. I’ve never heard of a tourist being injured, but last week I discovered an unexploded shell on an old concrete military bunker near Hoi An’s An Bang beach - a popular stretch of beach for tourists.

It’s estimated that more than 40,000 Vietnamese civilians have keen killed by unexploded ordnance since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. It’s a shocking figure for a country at peace - 18,000 less than total US casualties in the war.

The effort to clear deadly unexploded bombs was stepped up after relations between Vietnam and the US normalised in the 1990s. But newspapers still regularly carry stories of civilians being killed or maimed by leftover ordnance.

 

Old wartime bunker near An Bang Beach, Hoi An
Photo: Mark Bowyer Old wartime bunker near An Bang Beach, Hoi An

 

Plaque reads,
Photo: Mark Bowyer Plaque reads, "Be vigilant, hold your weapon tight, protect the nation, 1982".

 

Unexploded shell, An Bang Beach, Hoi An
Photo: Mark Bowyer Unexploded shell, An Bang Beach, Hoi An



I’ve never heard of tourists being injured or killed - though encountering stray unexploded bombs happened from time to time in the early 1990s.

 

 

I shot this video (above) travelling across the Hai Van Pass between Danang and Hue in 1993. It shows families and kids digging for scrap metal - including unexploded bombs - along the pass. It was a time when UXO casualties ran especially high. 

Last week while visiting Hoi An, I was reminded that tourists should keep an eye out too. I found a rusty unexploded shell not far from tourist deckchairs on a stretch of beach south of popular An Bang beach.

I was checking out a war era concrete bunker on the beach and saw the shell on top. It looked like it had been caught up in a fishing net and left by fishermen.

I alerted the local people that this looked dangerous and that it should be removed. I wasn't sure that they would act - and it seems they didn't. Four days later, it's still there.

I also checked the risk with experts at Project Renew, an NGO focused on clearing unexploded ordnance in Quang Tri province - the old border province between North and South Vietnam. This was the epicentre of conflict in the Vietnam War, and is the area most seriously impacted by UXO. They confirmed that the shell was dangerous and needed to be professionally disabled.

Local authorities have been notified and we hope it’s removed soon. We'll let you know. In the meantime, if you see anything that looks like this, stay away, and alert local police.

 

For more on the amazing work of Project Renew, check out their website and this story from the New Yorker magazine.

 

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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