Home Kent News The ticking timebomb laying silently beneath Kent’s waters

The ticking timebomb laying silently beneath Kent’s waters

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Original article from Kent Live

We are all well aware of the delights and beauty of the Kent coastline.

Miles of beaches, bays and headlines overlook the glistening Channel and Thames Estuary.

However, many in Kent might not be aware of the ticking time bomb which sits right on our doorstep.

An American ship sank and split in two off the coast of Sheerness in August 1944 with around 1,400 tonnes of explosives on board.

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The SS Richard Montgomery – and its potentially explosive cargo – is monitored 24 hours a day and seven days a week by port authorities, and is subject to a 500-metre exclusion zone.

One man who has studied the ship for a decade believes that a "large-scale disaster is inevitable".

For the last 76 years the ship has been almost completely submerged with the Government previously warning of the risk of explosions.

208 tonnes of bombs

A part of the wreck still contains 2,000 cases of 'used and non-fused fragmentation cluster bombs' and 208 tonnes of bombs containing TNT.

If these explosives were to suddenly detonate, lives could be endangered.

According to a report by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency there are holes in the ship big enough to to allow the explosives to escape.

A 2004 report by the New Scientist stated if the ship did explode it would be one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts ever.

Analysis by BBC Transport correspondent, Tom Edwards, suggested: "At the time I remember someone saying if it exploded, the force would be so strong it would smash all the windows of homes on the shore in Essex and Kent."

The site where the ship has sunk is constantly being monitored by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and is well sign-posted to ensure no ships disturb the sunken danger.

Drone footage posted on Twitter shows exactly what it looks like more than 80 years after the incident.

The ship has gained a large amount of interest over the years, so much so that there was even a film made about it.

Ken Knowles, a director who spent ten years making a film about the ship, believes that its condition is worsening and if nothing is done, large-scale disaster is inevitable.

He said that should the corroding ship’s bombs explode, debris would cause damage to the area within a 20-mile radius.

He also argues that the explosion could cause a tsunami.

“If the Montgomery went off it could cause a tsunami that would flood London,” he said.

Ken believes that most Sheerness residents take the ship for granted and do not feel it poses a threat.

The SS Richard Montgomery was used to transport arms and supplies to Europe during WWII

He said: “It is something that most will say ‘It has been there for 70 years. What are you worried about?’ If you went into a pub and asked people about it, they would say ‘Not the Montgomery again!’”

Should a team of bomb disposal experts attempt to diffuse or remove the Richard Montgomery’s cargo, it would require evacuating everywhere within a 25-mile radius for months at a time, which Ken argues is realistically an impossibility.

He said: “When there is one bomb found in a high street, the bomb disposal team evacuates all the area within ten miles because that it the size of the area the bomb would affect. On the Montgomery there are hundreds of bombs.

“If you speak to any of the officials, they would say there is no solution,” he said.
“Something is going to happen and it is quite sad really because nobody in a high position, even bomb disposal experts, have got a solution.”

Removal

A contractor is being sought to carry out the removal of the masts from the SS Richard Montgomery.

The masts, which are visible above the water line, are thought to be placing undue stress on the rest of the vessel’s structure, and thus the plan to cut them down in height.

The Ministry of Defence is offering to pay £5million to any company prepared to remove the rusting masts.

The ship, along with its 1,400 tonnes of explosives, has been submerged since it sank in August 1944

Concerns about the SS Richard Montgomery and its cargo were raised in Westminster when Labour peer Lord Harris of Haringey asked why the government was "so relaxed about thousands of such bombs and shells deteriorating together in an unstable environment, unguarded and unprotected".

However, Conservative front bencher Baroness Barran said that because most of the explosives in the SS Richard Montgomery cargo holds were TNT, it was likely to be inert.

She said this was because "the fuses will have degraded over time".

This theory was reinforced by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which said the chance of a major explosion were "remote".

Original Article