For three weeks now, crew on board a Singapore barge carrying sand for land reclamation have lived in fear of their accidental cargo - an unexploded 2m-long ordnance.
It was only yesterday morning that the war relic was finally assessed by experts to be safe to handle. This means that a private firm will now dispose of it.
The piece of ordnance is said to have been carried over from Vietnam, which supplied the sand. It was found on board the vessel KNB 1, a delivery barge that loads sand from another vessel before discharging it at the reclamation site.
While the barge was discharging the sand, the war relic was discovered as it became caught between the hatch and a conveyor belt that carried the sand, a source said.
The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Police Coast Guard were alerted to the incident on July 18. MPA said: "A safety zone was immediately established around the site of the barge."
The vessel, with the registration number SR 3498C, is involved in the land reclamation project for a new port terminal in Tuas.
On the advice of the Singapore Armed Forces Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, the barge was subsequently moved from the reclamation site to Sudong Explosive Anchorage, said MPA. The site is a designated anchorage for the loading or discharging of dangerous goods.
It is believed that in the past three weeks, ordnance disposal experts from the military and a private consultancy have made repeated trips to the barge anchored off Pulau Sudong. The barge is about 40 minutes away by boat from West Coast Pier.
"As the war relic is buried under sand materials on board the barge, time is needed to carefully remove the materials first," said an MPA spokesman.
Yesterday's green light for removing the war relic means relief could come soon for the crew of seven, who have been on board for the past three weeks.
"It has been three weeks. Why did they not evacuate us? I fear my life is still in danger," said a crew member.
The barge is chartered by Starhigh Asia Pacific, which specialises in sand supply. It could not reply to The Straits Times by press time on why the crew remained on board.
Weapons and equipment editor Kelvin Wong of military publication IHS Jane's said the typical procedure would be to clear civilians from the immediate area around the unexploded ordnance. He said: "While the authorities may have ascertained that the bomb is a dud, safety protocols would likely require the evacuation of civilians from the area, especially if the disposal experts are in the process of disarming or removing the weapon."
He said that if the bomb was from the Vietnam War, it was likely to be a free-fall explosive. Such bombs are usually triggered by a fuse, timer or by impact, Mr Wong said.
• Additional reporting by Melody Zaccheus