WW2 shipwreck filled with bombs could 'cause tsunami' in river Thames if it explodes, fear experts

THE rusting wreckage of a World War II munitions ship is to be removed over fears that if its deadly cargo exploded it would cause a “tsunami”.

The American Liberty Ship SS Richard Montgomery sank in the Thames Estuary in August 1944 carrying 6,000 tonnes of ordnance intended to supply the Allied advance in France after D-Day.

But 1,400 tonnes of explosives still remain on the wreck and an exclusion zone in place around it after experts warned that if the wreck exploded it would cause a tsunami which would threaten people in the nearby port of Sheerness, Kent as well as Southend in Essex.

Only the masts of the ship – the most surveyed and closely monitored wreck in British Waters – can be seen above the water and now Government officials have launched a bid for salvage firms to remove them.

The Salvage and Marine Operations Team also require the sunken ship to be surveyed, maintained and parts to be salvaged on behalf of the Department for Transport.

The Government has now issued an official contract notice to advertise the daring job with interested small or medium enterprises (SMEs) given until November 30 to bid for the tender.

The original cut-off date was set for August 3 but has been extended after the Covid-19 pandemic, with four months of work set to begin on March 15 next year.


It estimates the value of the contract to be between £100,000 and £4million.

The mast removal is needed to ensure the wreck remains as stable as possible by taking the weight of the masts off the ship and allowing it to continue to degrade naturally underwater.

There are concerns the decaying metal masts could collapse under their own weight and fall onto the wreck below to trigger an explosion.

Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson said: "I have been informed that the Government is moving to the next stage which is to tender for the work.

"The estimated value is a somewhat fluid figure from £100,000 to £4 million."

In a letter to Mr Henderson, aviation, maritime and security minister Kelly Tolhurst MP admitted the work "carries risk" and was only being carried out in hope of "minimising the potential effect if the bulkhead were to collapse".

She said: "I appreciate and share the concern you raise for constituents living nearby. It is for this reason that the procurement is being undertaken.

"The Department is seeking to manage the risk by reducing the height and weight of the masts, minimising the potential effect if the bulkhead were to collapse in the future.

"I do understand, though, that any work of this nature carries risk.

However, this decision has been taken based on the best available evidence.

"My officials are working closely with their counterparts in the Ministry of Defence to address and mitigate as much of the risk as possible. The mast removal will be led by the Ministry of Defence with their experts present during the works."

She added: "I hope this reassures you that we continue to take the safety of your constituents with the utmost seriousness and that the management of the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery remains of great importance to this Government."

Many residents either side of the wreckage on the Isle of Sheppey and in Southend have lived in fear it could blow at any moment.

The Royal Military College of Science warned in 1970 that if there was an explosion on the wreck, the force would create a 3,000 metre-high column of water and a five metre-high tidal wave would swamp Sheerness and its 11,000 residents before travelling up the Thames.

Ken Rowles, 75, spent five years making a documentary about the Liberty ship and the risk its bombs pose.

The retired filmmaker and Swale Borough Councillor said: "There was always the potential danger that interfering could pose. I would say this is definitely a potential danger.

"Providing it's left alone, it should be okay but this is not leaving it alone. It's major construction or destruction works.


"If anything was ever going to happen, this would be it. One of those bombs goes off and it could send a tsunami up the Thames."

Ken added: "If the works need to be done, then I guess they have to do it.

It did surprise me to see the contract.

"I suppose the masts may be at risk of falling down onto the cargo and causing an explosion.

"The lives at stake are not just the people working on it but those living in the area too."

A yearly survey is commissioned by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to assess the risk of the protected wreck's explosive-ridden cargo.

It comes after Government officials in the House of Lords debated new ways to ensure the Second World War munitions ship remains safe last year.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency says there are 1,400 tonnes of TNT on board the sunken vessel alongside a consignment of white phosphorous which has been slowly deteriorating in the salt water.

There have been a number of collision near misses with the sunken vessel despite the masts of the Liberty Ship displaying danger signs above water and an exclusion zone set up to prevent anyone going within a 500 metre radius.


Bright red danger buoys were carefully removed last Thursday to be cleaned of grime and will prove all the more important to warn passing ships when the landmark masts are chopped off.

The ship, owned by the United States Government, is designated as a dangerous wreck under Section 2 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and so must be surveyed regularly.

In August 1944 she was loaded with 6,225 tonnes of high-explosive bombs and detonators and arrived in the Thames estuary.

The King’s harbour master, based in Southend, instructed her to moor at Sheerness middle sands in 10 metres of water despite having a draught of 9.45 metres and a full cargo.

On Sunday, August 20, there was a force 8 gale.

The ship dragged her anchor and ran aground. As the tide ebbed, her plates buckled and cracked forcing the captain and crew to abandon ship.

On August 24 one of the holds was breached and two weeks later the ship broke its back.

The bombs – mainly for aircraft – include dozens of 'high explosive Blockbuster bombs' and around 2,000 cases of cluster bombs, along with hundreds of 'normal bombs' up to a weight of 1,000lbs each.

It was part of a convoy travelling to the UK in August 1944 and then onto recently liberated Cherbourg in France after the D-Day Landings, but when it arrived in the Thames Estuary, it was instructed to anchor in the Great Nore, off Sheerness, Kent.

The vessel dragged her anchor in shallow water and was grounded on a sandbank, just 250 metres of the Medway Approach Channel.

Half of the cargo was removed before a crack, which has now torn the ship in two, developed in the hull.

It was then left to sink and it has remained on the sandbank for the past 75 years.

Most read in News


Dembele linked with United move, Cristiano Ronaldo joins United WhatsApp


Utd's Greenwood arrested on suspicion of rape & GBH as cops seen at star's house


Mason Greenwood faces police probe after arrest on suspicion of rape & assault


Wycombe's Akinfenwa furiously confronts MK Dons fans over abusive chant

The MCA now spends up to £40,000 monitoring the ship, which is It is classified as a dangerous wreck under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.

Warning signs are attacked to the masts of the ships, which can be seen above the water line.

The signs state “Danger Unexploded Ammunition. Do Not Approach or Board This Wreck”.

    Source: Read Full Article