- A cargo ship wrecked at the end of London’s River Thames in 1944 with 1,400 tonnes of TNT inside is posing a threat to the local area.
- SS Richard Montgomery ran aground on a sandbank near Sheerness, 45 miles east of London, in WWII. Half its payload was recovered, the rest was beyond saving.
- Since then it has entered local legend in England, dubbed the “Doomsday Ship.” The UK government is monitoring the wreck.
- It’s surrounded by an 800-meter exclusion, which can only be crossed by permission of the UK Home Office.
- The sunken hull is deteriorating, which could unsettle the explosives onboard, and potentially result in a monstrous explosion.
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A cargo ship which sank 75 years ago at the mouth easterly end of London’s River Thames, bearing hundreds of tonnes of TN, could poses a threat to the capital decades later.
In August 1944, SS Richard Montgomery, a US vessel ferrying munitions in World War II, ran aground on a sandbank near Sheerness, eastern England, in stormy weather.
1,400 tonnes of explosives were trapped inside the forward and rear holds. Rescue crews determined that they were to risky to attempt to save.
For decades it has lain dormant 15 meters below the surface. But two reports from the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) published in 2017 and 2018 suggest the wreck is deteriorating, leaving the future of dangerous cargo uncertain.
Research by the New Scientist magazine in 2014 found that if the cargo exploded, a 1.8 mile-high column of water and debris would be displaced.
One MCA report from 1970 suggested that if the payload were to detonate, a 16-foot wave could sweep up the Thames to London.
The cargo is known to include 800 US-made M65 bombs (typically used to blast dams and bridges) and 1,407 smaller AN-M64 bombs.
The Montgomery has therefore earned the nickname the “Doomsday Ship,” and the government has seen fit to introduce an 800-meter no-go area around the wreck.
It’s illegal to cross the line without permission from the UK Home Secretary, a senior politician.
The wreck has entered lore in the town of Sheerness, the nearest inhabited area.
In 2014 a former explosives expert from Sheerness ran for Parliament, warning in his brazen manifesto that the bombs could explode and kill people.
Other worries concern the number of near misses cargo ships have with the Montgomery on an annual basis. Experts fear it is only a matter of time until a real collision.
However, some say the explosives are safe and sound.
Dave Welch, a former Royal Navy bomb disposal expert, told the BBC that even in the unlikely event one bomb went off, the others would not necessarily follow.
“If you’ve got a 1,000-pound bomb two metres from another 1,000-pound bomb, the other one won’t go bang. I know that for a fact – I did it last Tuesday,” he said.