Wrecked Wartime Cargo Ship Draws Tourists

The wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery off the coast of Sheerness in Kent is drawing extra visitors, after plans for its partial removal were revealed. The BBC reports that the wartime wreck has been the subject of renewed interest in recent months.

The SS Richard Montgomery is a US WWII ship that ran aground in the Thames Estuary in August 1944. New Scientist explains that the wreck, whose three rotting masts are visible above the water, is packed 1,400 tonnes of explosives. For this reason, there is a 500m exclusion zone around the wreck, and it is monitored 24/7.

Amid concern that the heavy steel masts could break and fall onto unexploded bombs, the Department for Transport has appointed contractors to carry out a survey, with a view to reducing the height of the masts. This seems to have sparked a wave of sightseers who want to see the eerie reminder of the past for themselves.

Richard Bain, managing director of Jetstream Tours, said: “Seeing the masts gives you a sense of the dangers that lurk beneath the water and whilst the ship is still laden with bombs, having the masts there helps to see something tangible in front of them.”         

The DfT said: “We continue to monitor the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery closely and it is understood that it is in a relatively stable condition. Expert wreck assessors are now undertaking detailed surveys which will inform future work to reduce the height of the masts.”

Vessels for shipping machinery overseas were developed during WWII, to transport heavy equipment, such as tanks, weapons and explosives, to the continent. Since then, the infrastructure has developed to accommodate various types of roll on/roll off cargo, including plant machinery.

Alarmingly, the New Scientist article explains that if the live bombs on the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery were to be detonated, the explosion would be forceful enough to shatter every window in Sheerness, and send a massive wave of mud and shrapnel 3km into the air.