It is hardly an abnormality on the nation's coastlines, he added.

"Mines are out there. Torpedoes are out there. I know that. There's a lot of ordnance out there," Hunt said. "There are many hundreds of thousands of projectiles. I know this because sand dredging brings it up."

In 1964, the Navy latched onto a novel way to get rid of aging or obsolete bombs and rockets: Load them onto rusty Liberty class ships, tow the ships out to sea and sink them.

It was called Operation CHASE, an acronym for Cut Holes and Sink 'Em.

It was cheaper than the previous smaller-scale dumps, and got rid of both the ordnance and the unwanted ships at the same time in deep water locations, according to a previously undisclosed Navy report titled Historical Summary of Numbered DWD Operations. DWD stands for deep water dumping.

Over six years, 15 ships were packed with more than 31 million pounds of high-explosive ordnance and sunk off the coastlines of eight states - Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia, Alaska, California and Washington.

The first ship, the SS John F. Shafroth, was quietly scuttled southwest of San Francisco with a comparatively small load of a half-million pounds of rockets, mines and bombs.

The Navy decided to blow up the next ship.

It was spectacular.

The explosion of the SS Village, in deep water off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., consumed much of the 1.6 million pounds of bombs, grenades, mines and rockets and scattered unexploded ordnance in all directions.

The Sept. 17, 1964, detonation sent "extreme shock waves" in all directions and was so strong it was "recorded at numerous distant seismic stations," the report says.

For the Navy, this was an unexpected benefit - a chance to obtain seismic data on large explosions that "would be valuable to the nuclear test detection program," the report noted.

So for the next three years the ships were blown up at various distances from the shoreline to determine if seismic sensors inland could detect the explosions.

The 1965 detonation of the Coastal Mariner, in deep water off Virginia Beach, created "a severe shock wave" and a 600-foot geyser.

That practice stopped in 1970, after the Navy lost one of its explosives-packed ships off the coast of the Aleutian Islands, part of Alaska.

The ship was carrying more than 6 million pounds of bombs, mines, rockets and torpedoes, and was beginning to sink. Then fog rolled in and the Navy lost contact with it, preventing it from being bombed into oblivion.

For the next 19 hours, the Navy frantically looked for the ship, eventually found it, and failed in an effort to bomb it. The ship drifted into water deemed too shallow for detonation, so it was allowed to sink on its own in 2,800 feet of water, the shallowest of all the CHASE dumps.

The Navy looked the hulk over, decided it was safe enough, and gave up the idea of blowing up future ships in the dump program.

The holds of the eight remaining ordnance-packed ships were flooded so they would sink on their own.

Seven of them, however, blew up on the way to the ocean floor. Pressure on the munitions as they sunk presumably set off chain-reaction explosions that tore the ships apart, scattering the bombs and rockets that didn't go off.

The last ship to be sunk full of conventional weapons was the SS David E. Hughes, sunk on Aug. 29, 1970, in 7,000 feet of water off the coast of Bethany Beach, Del.

With the rise of the environmental movement at the time, the Navy decided enough was enough and in 1971 canceled the program.

"Although the Navy believed the program relatively harmless environmentally as well as being operationally safe and cost effective, it was conceded that the full ecological impact of DWD operations was not documented," according to the historical summary of the program.