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May 21, 2019 11:02 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Divers Remove Thousands Of Gallons Of Oil From Sunken Tanker

Divers securely drill into and access the oil tanks of the wreck of the British-flagged tanker Coimbra, May 8, 2019. The Coimbra was a supply ship owned by Great Britain when the ship was sunk off the coast of Long Island, during World War II by a German U-boat. COURTESY ALLYSON CONROY
May 27, 2019 3:36 PM

A World War II tanker, the Coimbra, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat 30 miles off the coast of the Shinnecock Inlet in 1942, was, until recently, still leaking oil, according to U.S. Coast Guard officials.

Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy explained that divers with Florida-based Resolve Marine Group have confirmed that eight of the tanker’s undisclosed number of oil tanks have varying quantities of residual oil. One such tank was reported to have a pinhole leak, which divers recently patched. Ms. Conroy attributed the leak as the source of a diesel oil sheen on the surface of the water near the wreckage site.

In 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began monitoring the site using satellite radar, which picked up on the surface oil. A previous investigation, completed by the Coast Guard in 1967, had originally concluded that there was no oil left on board the vessel Coimbra.

“They might not have been able to access the tanks that we are able to access now,” Ms. Conroy said.

Due to advancements in underwater technology, she explained that dive teams were able to determine which of the tanks had residual oil and, on May 11, began to carefully extract the oil from the tanker. In less than a week, she said that crews had removed more than 67,000 gallons of oil from the wreck. That number increases daily.

She added that, on average, prior to patching the “compromised” tank, roughly five to 10 gallons of oil was seeping into the Atlantic Ocean per noticeable sheening. She added that the surface oil posed no significant effect on the environment. “With that small amount of seepage, it’s very easily weathered away or burned off by the sun,” she said.

Maureen Wren from the DEC’s Office of Media Relations, as well as Aaron Jozsef, Resolve Marine Group’s quality, health, safety and environment manager referred all questions to Ms. Conroy.

Ms. Conroy could not provide an estimate as to how much oil is thought to be on board.

However, she said that when the vessel sank 77 years ago, it was carrying over 2 million gallons, adding that it’s unclear how much burned off when it was torpedoed.

According to Mother Nature Network, the vessel is believed to have approximately 1.2 million gallons left on board.

The U.S. Coast Guard has no intention of raising the wreckage from the ocean floor. Ms. Conroy pointed to the people who lost their lives while aboard the ship in World War II: “The ship is now an ocean grave—it’s a memorial site,” she said.

Additionally, she added that, over the years, the ship has served as a reef for mussels, algae, and has essentially, “become a part of the maritime ecological system. We don’t want to disturb that,” she said.

Ms. Conroy anticipates that the project will be complete within the next month. She could not offer an estimated cost for the operation; however, she confirmed that it would be funded using the Coast Guard’s Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a billion-dollar fund established in 1990 to relieve the cleanup costs related to oil spills.

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