The Liberty ship SS Richard Montgomery,with a cargo of high explosives, was wrecked off the Nore in the Thames Estuary in 1944. Shortly after the wreck, an attempt was made to remove her cargo but the ship broke apart with 1,400 tonnes of high explosives still aboard. And there, in the Thames Estuary, 1.4 miles from the town of Sheerness, the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery has lain for the last 68 years, its masts still rising above the water, with an orange buoy marked “Danger” bobbing near by. Now the wreck may have sunk a proposal for an airport on the Thames Estuary.
MP says explosion risk from sunken WW2 munitions ship makes Thames Estuary airport plans a non-starter
Cambridge Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert claimed on May 31 that the presence of the wrecked munitions ship SS Richard Montgomery “must surely put an end to the bonkers idea of building an airport in the Thames Estuary.” The ship, which contains the equivalent of 1,400 tonnes of TNT, lies on the bed of the Thames Estuary, 1.4 miles from the town of Sheerness.
The latest annual study from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency suggests the hull of the wreck is still deteriorating, and the risk of an explosion, while remote, cannot be ruled out.
The concern is that the construction might disturb the wreck and trigger an explosion of the deteriorating munitions. As the BBC reportedin 2004: In 1970, government tests on the site showed a blast would hurl a 1,000ft wide column of water, mud, metal and munitions almost 10,000ft into the air. The shock of the blast would shatter almost every window in Sheerness and damage buildings. The explosion would also generate a 16ft high wave that could sink a small craft.
A previous attempt to salvage a similar ship did not end well. When an attempt was made, in 1967, to salvage the munitions ship, Kielce, which sank in the English Channel off Folkstone, there was an explosion equivalent to an earthquake measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale, digging a 20-foot-deep (6 m) crater in the seabed and bringing “panic and chaos” to Folkestone. Fortunately no one was injured in the blast.