Past Residencies  

Roland Boden
March. 2002

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The Mystery of U 239
Perth, Western Australia
by Boris Kremer

On 7 September 2000, the BBC News reported that the Colombian police had stumbled upon a life-size submarine in a warehouse in a suburb of Bogota. General Luis Ernesto Gilibert, who headed the raid, said the 30 odd metre long vessel had apparently been designed to smuggle huge quantities of cocaine or heroin. Observers were quick to point out that the Colombian capital is landlocked at more than 2000 metres above sea level. But according to US Drug Enforcement Administrators, the traffickers had chosen the suburb of Facatativa because it was a source of high-quality building materials. They speculated that after completion, the ship would have been disassembled and taken by lorry to Colombia's Pacific or Carribean coast.

Less than two years after this startling discovery, the country town of Kellerberrin, Western Australia, has its eyes turned on a warehouse in the middle of town, where investigators were surprised to find a near real-size submarine. Located in the heart of the so-called Wheatbelt, a long stretch of farming land along the Great Eastern Highway, the country's main East-West road link, this conservative community has been thriving on wheat and sheep for more than a century, and has certainly not had a record of drug trade. No wonder the uncanny find caused a stir in this otherwise quiet area.

County officials, tipped off by a couple of pub owners from the neighbouring town of Tammin, were able to identify and apprehend the presumed builder of the partially completed vessel. The suspect, a 40-year-old man from Dresden, Germany, would not answer questions by the police. Confidential sources say some time earlier, the man had been seen moving into the disused house where the ship was later found. The owner of the building, a local farming baron, confirmed he had been approached by a foreigner two months prior to the discovery, offering to rent the space for a substantial amount of money. "I had no idea what that bloke was up to", Tony Y. is reported to have told the police, "but he coughed up the bikkies."

A trained engineer and design expert, Roland B. had first attracted townspeople's attention by prowling the local scrap metal yard. It was furthermore found out that B., who is officially listed as an artist, is supposed to be the mastermind behind a worldwide conspiratorial network operating under the acronym of ISU. A confidential paper, drafted by former Eastern German services, lists the Institute for Subreal Urbanism as a letterbox company for unidentified underground activity.

With investigations pending, the suspect has been extradited from Australia and is now believed to be back in his Berlin headquarters. The decision to deport the German national was greeted by administrations in both countries, describing it as a wise choice in view of their good diplomatic relationships. Meanwhile, detectives ponder over the possible use of the ship. While some, referring to the ongoing public controversy over the Government's immigration policy, have intimated that it was designed to carry asylum seekers, most analysts prefer to speak of a drug trafficking tool.

In either case, questions remain. Was the ship going to be freighted some 300 kilometres by road train to the port town of Fremantle, where it would have embarked on a journey around the world, as circumstantial evidence found on the spot suggests? Or was the vessel with the insignia U 239 merely a prototype for a bigger ship, yet to be constructed, a hypothesis reinforced by the use of cheap building materials such as wood and corrugated iron in its construction? Consultants to the police did indicate that the submarine, in its present shape, would most likely have been unfit for sea travel. "That bloody boat didn't even have a carbie", confirms local craftsman David B. "It was banged together with a bunch of nails. I suppose it would have sunk."

The Kellafellas, as the town's inhabitants call themselves, concerned with the community's reputation and the slow progress of the inquiry, eventually took action. Under the impulse of a handful of local entrepreneurs, it was decided to destroy the potentially harmful vehicle. Taking what they called "precautionary measures", they had the vessel reduced back to scrap metal. Forensic investigators were caught off-guard by the ship's destruction, expressing regrets at hearing the news. With the U 239 in shreds, attempts to solve its mystery have been severely compromised. The sub from deep space had vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

Boris Kremer


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