Published: 06:00, 25 July 2021
The rusting masts of an American ‘bomb ship’ are expected to be cut off next year.
The SS Richard Montgomery has remained a danger to shipping in the Thames Estuary since it sank off Sheerness on August 20, 1944, loaded with explosives.
In May last year, the Salvage and Marine Operations (Salmo) Team at the Ministry of Defence asked companies to tender for the delicate job of removing the distinctive masts, which have acted as a warning to shipping for more than 75 years.
It followed the findings of an underwater survey of the wreck, published in 2019, which assessed the structure.
A post on the Government’s website at the time said a contract notice for the work, subject to funding, was ready to be issued last April with the intention of awarding the contract in September 2020.
However, this timeframe has since been pushed back.
The Department for Transport has now said that, subject to a successful tender assessment, it expected a contract would be placed by September 2021 and that this would enable detailed survey works to be undertaken this autumn, with a view to begin mast cutting work in 2022.
Veteran sailor Tim Bell, from Minster, said he could see the sense in cutting the masts down because they were starting to collapse and rust, and could fall onto the deck below where there are still 2,000 cases of cluster bombs.
However, he said, he would be disappointed to see them go.
“I would’ve thought it would’ve been best to leave the masts up,” he said. “Once they’re removed there will be nothing to see and it will be forgotten about. It will just be leaving the risks to fate.”
He added: “If they do remove the masts it would be nice for them to put them back somewhere on Sheppey as a memorial to all those who lost their lives on war ships.”
The estimated value for the contract is said to be a somewhat fluid figure from £100,000 to £4 million.