A Second World War American warship that lies at the bottom of the Thames Estuary is packed with high-grade explosive that could go off at any moment.
The American Liberty Ship the SS Richard Montgomery sank over 70 years ago, running aground on its final voyage just a mile off the coast of Sheerness in August 1944.
Of the 3,000 tons of bombs and ammunition on board, 1,400 tons of live explosives remain. The masts of the ship can still be seen above water and are emblazoned with warning signs and buoys that state: “Danger – Unexploded ammunition. Do not approach or board this wreck.”
Five years in the making, the documentary, which sees interviews with Merchant Marine veterans and ship builders, is crowdfunding to market and finalise the production.
“Is this a disaster waiting to happen?” it asks, as broadcaster David Riley points out: “The ammunition and explosives have been on board since 1944 as the wreck continues to disintegrate and the bombs move around, the more dangerous it becomes.”
Experts have calculated the potential explosive velocity of the bombs remaining on the wreck equates to half of the bombs that obliterated Dresden.
Any attempts to offload the bombs would not only cause logistical problems, it will also be highly dangerous.
Gordon Henderson, MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey said: “The problem is this: You would have to evacuate the whole of Sheppey, pretty well, if you were going to start messing around with that ship and in the real world, for a government to evacuate from their homes 40,000 people and all the businesses associated with the generation of the economy on Sheppey and expect months later everything to return to normal is simply fanciful. It’s not going to happen.
“If that ship was to go up now, the worst that would happen would be there would be a tsunami.”
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency does annual surveys of the wreck, with the most recent describing the risk of a major explosion as “remote”, but acknowledging that the hull of the ship is showing signs of gradual deterioration.
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