Sunken WW2 ship near Sheerness could cause 'loss of life' if bombs on board explode

A sunken cargo vessel off the coast of Sheerness could cause 'mass damage and a loss of life' if it exploded, according to an assessment by the Ministry of Defence.

The SS Montgomery has remained a danger to shipping ever since it sank off Sheerness.

It was loaded with 1400 tonnes of explosives when it sank in August 1944.

Two experts from the Royal Navy are set to advise specialist contractors on dismantling the masts on the vessel that poke out of the water in a two-month operation this summer

The masts are the only parts left of the SS Montgomery that haven't been submerged, but they are badly damaged. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Local historian Colin Harvey, made a documentary titled 'The Wreck, The SS Richard Montgomery story'.

He has been calling for the ship to be dismantled for years.

He said, "The masts are beginning to erode below sea level and the last thing we want is the masts to break off and fall into the areas where the bombs are stacked.

"The risk is that there are fuses inside some of them, now it's probably true to say that by now the fuses are silted up but you only need one that isn't, which may set off the rest in a chain reaction."

Sonar image of the SS Montgomery, which lies off the coast of Sheerness Credit: The Maritime & Coastguard Agency

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) report warns that in a worst case scenario, if the masts were to collapse, it could lead to: 'an explosion impacting the local area including the nearby oil and gas facilities' leading to 'mass damage and potential loss of life'.

The assessment also warns that if it exploded it could create:

  • 300m wide column of water

  • throw debris 3000m into the air

  • generate waves 5m high

The Ministry of Defence's worst case scenario if the SS Montgomery exploded, according to reports. Credit: ITV News Meridian

It is believed to be the first time the MoD has admitted the possible damage an explosion on the ship could cause.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency , which regularly monitor the shipwreck say the risk of a major explosion is 'remote'.

A spokesperson for Peel Ports, who manage the land, said: “As the harbour authority we welcome and support all activities to further reduce the risks from the wreck and its cargo, including the steps that the MoD and its contractors are undertaking now.

"The wreck remains within a safety exclusion zone and we continue to monitor vessel activity in the waters that we are responsible for, 24/7.” 

SS Montgomery

The SS Richard Montgomery was originally built in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1943 to take supplies to Europe in convoy across the Atlantic.

The captain was ordered to anchor off the Great Nore but the water was too shallow, and as the tide fell, the ship broke her back on sandbanks, less than two miles from Sheerness.

Bad weather forced Navy divers to abandon attempts to unload it as begun to sink.