Sunken ship with thousands of bombs on board 'could collapse'
Masts from the wreck of
the SS Richard Montgomery are still visible off the coast of
Sheerness. Picture: Barry Crayford
A ship that sunk off the Kent coast with thousands of
bombs on board is deteriorating more quickly than in recent years,
experts have warned.
SS Richard Montgomery sank off Sheerness in 1944 after it became
grounded on a bank and broke in two.
A salvage operation had to be abandoned and the wreck of the
American liberty ship remains packed with a mixture of
They include more than 2,000 cases of cluster fragmentation
bombs, nearly 600 500lb semi armour piercing bombs and at
least 1,000 additional 1,000lb bombs.
An explosion could trigger a tidal wave up to one metre high,
destroying some coastal communities and causing as much as £1
billion worth of damage.
A full report on the condition of the wreck is due to be
published by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which is
responsible for surveillance, in the next eight weeks.
This week, a summary of the report, based on surveys carried out
in 2008 and 2009, was released by the Department for Transport
following a Freedom of Information Act request.
There were greater levels of deterioration than has been seen in
previous years, which may suggest the rate of its decline in some
areas of the hull has accelerated.
The results point towards significant collapse and/or loss of
munitions becoming a more realistic possibility in the medium term,
although there appears to be no imminent danger.
Initial results of the 2010 survey do not identify any
significant changes or deterioration since 2009.
The surveys revealed new holes and extension of cracks in the
hull, but the orientation, list and pitch of the two sections of
the wreck have not changed since 2006.
The MCA summary says: "Whilst much of the hull appears to be
deteriorating relatively slowly, one of the main concerns is that
these specific areas of accelerated deterioration might lead to
structural collapse or allow the escape of munitions.
"Although some munitions studies have been carried out, these
are not sufficient to predict with any certainty what the effect of
significant structural collapse would be on the munitions
"It has always been noted that there may come a point when the
risks associated with non-intervention will become greater than the
risks associated with a carefully planned intervention operation
(such as dealing with escaping cargo material, or imminent or
actual significant structural collapse).
"Whilst significant structural collapse does not appear to be
imminent, surveys suggest that this prospect is getting
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