A World War II wreck carrying 1,400 tonnes of munitions which sank off the coast of Kent in 1944 is said to be in need of urgent work to prevent further damage to its hull leading to a potentially devastating explosion.
The SS Richard Montgomery ran aground in August 1944 near Medway. The Liberty ship was carrying 7,000 tonnes of munitions when it began to sink.
Experts now fear the vessel’s masts are putting too much stress on its deteriorating hull and the remaining munitions on board could result in a 1.4 kiloton explosion – leading to a four-foot tidal wave in the Thames estuary.
Recent surveys have shown cracks in the vessel’s hull have been increasing and it is feared a major failure in the structure could lead to a possible explosion, even though the munitions have been on the bottom of the Thames for over 60 years.
According to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency: ‘Ongoing monitoring and assessment of the SS Richard Montgomery has identified that the masts may be placing undue strain on the rest of the vessel structure. In light of this, the decision has been made to seek to reduce the height of the masts in order to maintain the integrity of hull and minimise the likelihood of structural collapse of the vessel’.
Tendering for the highly specialised contract is expected to close on August 2, while the remedial work is expected to take place in 2021.
According to the MCA: ‘While the risk of a major explosion is believed to be remote, it is considered prudent to monitor the condition of the wreck’.
The vessel is protected by a circle of buoys to warn shipping to stay away from the wreck, while the area is closely monitored by radar around the clock from nearby Medway Port. Buoys are said to be particulaly good at withstanding large explosions!
There are mixed feelings about the old boat as some feel it is a hazard and should be removed from the Estuary or an explosion could devastate North Kent. Others feel that it is no longer a significant risk and it is unlikely that the munitions would all go off at once.