Severe European drought reveals sunken World War II warships on Danube River

Over 20 ships emerged as the river faces remarkably low water levels.

August 19, 2022, 1:23 PM

Europe’s scorching drought has revealed the hulks of dozens of German warships that became submerged during World War Two near Serbia's river port town of Prahovo.

The ships, sunken on Danube River, were part of Nazi Germany's Black Sea fleet in 1944 as they retreated from advancing Soviet forces, officials said.

The vessels still impact the river today, often hampering river traffic during low water levels, authorities said.

Now, over 20 ships have come to the surface, many of which are still loaded with ammunition and explosives. Officials say the vessels pose a risk to shipping on the Danube.

PHOTO: Wreckage of a World War II German warship is seen in the Danube in Prahovo, Serbia Aug. 18, 2022.
Wreckage of a World War II German warship is seen in the Danube in Prahovo, Serbia Aug. 18, 2022.
Fedja Grulovic/Reuters

The vessels have limited the navigable section of the stretch near Prahova to 100 meters, significantly slimmer than the prior 180 meters ships had access to.

Serbian officials have taken to dredging along the river to salvage the usable navigation lanes.

We have deployed almost [our] entire [dredging] capacity... We are struggling to keep out waterways navigable along their full length," Veljko Kovacevic, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transportation, told Reuters.

The increasing difficulties for shipping boats will impact the country’s vital transportation of coal, which accounts for two thirds of Serbia’s electrical output, officials said.

PHOTO: Local fisherman Ivica Skodric, sails on his boat past the wreckage of a World War II German warship in the Danube in Prahovo, Serbia August 18, 2022.
Local fisherman Ivica Skodric, sails on his boat past the wreckage of a World War II German warship in the Danube in Prahovo, Serbia August 18, 2022.
Fedja Grulovic/Reuters

Further implicating the energy crisis, water flow in Serbia’s hydropower system dropped by half in the past two months, officials told the Balkan Green Energy News.

The country is also already enduring the impacts of the war in Ukraine upon their energy supply.

Officials said the ships vary, with some now showing turrets, command bridges, broken masts and twisted hulls, while even more still remain buried under sand banks.

In March, the Serbian government invited a contracted a private company for the salvage of some of the hulls and removal of ammunition and explosives. The operation cost officials an estimated $30 million, according to the country's infrastructure ministry.

PHOTO: Wreckage of a World War II German warship surfaces in the Danube in Prahovo, Serbia Aug. 18, 2022.
Wreckage of a World War II German warship is seen in the Danube in Prahovo, Serbia Aug. 18, 2022.
Fedja Grulovic/Reuters

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

The exposure of more of the sunken fleet comes after a summer of low water levels and sizzling drought.

The Danube levels near Prahovo are less than half their average for this time of the summer, experts say.

Related Topics

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events