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Work starts on making Sheppey bomb ship Richard Montgomery 'safe'


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Work is expected to begin this week on making Sheppey’s Second World War bomb ship safe so its masts can be removed.

We understand experts were due to start surveying the seabed around the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery today so contractors can cut down the rusting superstructure in safety.

Masts of the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery Second World War bomb ship underwater off Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey. Picture: Maritime & Coastguard Agency
Masts of the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery Second World War bomb ship underwater off Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey. Picture: Maritime & Coastguard Agency
A previous survey boat taking soundings around the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery bomb ship off Sheerness. Picture: Margaret Flo McEwan
A previous survey boat taking soundings around the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery bomb ship off Sheerness. Picture: Margaret Flo McEwan

The American liberty ship sank during a storm in the Thames Estuary off Sheerness on August 20, 1944, loaded with explosives. It broke its back on a submerged sandbank and has remained there ever since.

The ship is still believed to have 1,400 tonnes of unexploded bombs on board.

It is not expected divers will be asked to clear the area immediately. Instead, it is likely a company, believed to be SafeLane Global, will use a state-of-the-art underwater sledge of remote-controlled equipment to search for anything which has slipped out of the hold.

The system combines acoustic sonar and magnetometer readings. Surveying normally takes about a week.

Some believe the wreck’s ordnance has reached its “corrosion threshold” with TNT expected to be leaking.

Equipment used Safelane Global to survey Lake Lothing in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Picture: Rob Howarth PhotographyCopyright Rob Howarth Photography
Equipment used Safelane Global to survey Lake Lothing in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Picture: Rob Howarth PhotographyCopyright Rob Howarth Photography
Safelane Global conducting a survey on Lake Lothing in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Picture: Rob Howarth Photography
Safelane Global conducting a survey on Lake Lothing in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Picture: Rob Howarth Photography

SafeLane Global, which is based in Gillingham and was formerly known as BACTEC, has carried out similar work on Lake Lothing in Lowestoft, Suffolk, around the site of a new bridge.

The firm was founded in 1989 and calls itself an “explosive threat mitigation” company. It was one of the first private companies to be involved in land mine clearance and is still working in Yemen.

The marine division led by Ryan Prophet provides chemical warfare agent monitoring on board vessels around the world. In 2020 it won the Queen’s Award for International Trade and also completed landmine clearance in the Falkland Islands.

The Richard Montgomery made waves earlier this week when it was reported to be the inspiration for the new Sky drama Cobra: Cyberwar starring Robert Carlyle.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: "We continue to monitor the wreck closely. As part of our prudent risk-management, expert wreck assessors are now undertaking detailed surveys which will inform future work to reduce the height of the masts.”

He confirmed a contract has been awarded for the masts' removal for 2022 and said further preparatory work will be needed before the contractors and their equipment can arrive. He added: "Our key concern in completing this work is to ensure the safety of the public."

The wreck is surrounded by a no-entry exclusion zone under 24-hour surveillance.

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