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New photos reveal state of Richard Montgomery wreck off Sheerness

By John Nurden

Stunning new underwater photographs have been released showing the state of Second World War bomb wreck SS Richard Montgomery.

The American Liberty Ship went aground in the Thames Estuary one mile off Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey on August 20, 1944, loaded with explosives. It still has 1,400 tonnes of bombs on board.

Every year the Government's Maritime and Coastguard Agency commissions a survey to check how dangerous the deadly cargo is.

Latest image 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 (12013605)
Latest image 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 (12013605)

The report of the latest inspection, carried out in November 2017 and April 2018, was released on Thursday at a meeting between Sheppey and Sittingboune MP Gordon Henderson and shipping minister Nusrat Ghani.

Mr Henderson said: "The overall situation has not changed. The non-intervention policy that has been in place for several decades under successive governments is still the best option.

"However, the wreck will continue to be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week and alternative options will be considered should deterioration of the superstructure make necessary a change in policy."

Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson with Nusrat Ghani, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Transport responsible for the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery off Sheerness (12013964)
Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson with Nusrat Ghani, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Transport responsible for the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery off Sheerness (12013964)

He said: "In the nine years I have been involved in these briefings, the standard of the surveys has improved inmeasurably as increasingly sophisticated equipment has become available. The latest data follows survey work in 2017 using multibeam and laser scanning equipment."

Three areas showed structural changes since 2016.

Deck plating around Hold 2 has dropped by 60cm; the bridge deck area has continued to collapse and a split in the deck in the rear (aft) section has subsided by 20cm.

Latest image 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 (12013592)
Latest image 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 (12013592)
Latest image 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 (12013595)
Latest image 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 (12013595)
Latest image 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 (12013589)
Latest image 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 (12013589)

Of 96 features checked, 22 had changed and the amount of objects scattered around the wreck on the seabed has increased from 66 to 72.

The Richard Montgomery was built in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1943 to take vital supplies to Europe and sailed across the Atlantic in convoy.

The captain was ordered to anchor off the Great Nore but the water was too shallow for the fully loaded vessel. As the tide fell, the ship dragged its anchor and went aground on a sandbank, breaking its back.

Map 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 (12013600)
Map 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 (12013600)

Bad weather and increased danger as the ship settled forced stevedores and Navy divers to abandon attempts to unload it.

There is now a safety zone around the wreck, which can be seen at low tide.

Many believe the explosives, mainly phosphor bombs, are still unsafe and could lead to a tsunami which would flood Sheerness and Southend if they ever went off.

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 (12013603)
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 (12013603)
How the Richard Montgomery used to look before sinking off Sheerness (12013586)
How the Richard Montgomery used to look before sinking off Sheerness (12013586)

A copy of the full report is here

Read more: All the latest news from Sheerness

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