U-boat vic­tim from WWII may be leak­ing oil

CG ar­ranges for dive to as­sess Bri­tish tanker south of Long Is­land

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By JU­LIA BERGMAN Day Staff Writer

The Coast Guard wants to find out if a Bri­tish tanker sunk by a Ger­man U-boat off the coast of Long Is­land dur­ing World War II is leak­ing oil.

The 423-foot-long tanker Coim­bra is bro­ken into three parts, and is rest­ing on its star­board side about 170 feet below the wa­ter roughly 30 miles south­east of Shin­necock, N.Y., off Long Is­land’s south shore.

The Coast Guard has re­ceived re­ports of oil sheens near the wreck from dif­fer­ent sources, in­clud­ing the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s satel­lite sys­tem that can de­tect oil anom­alies, as re­cently as this year. It has con­tracted with the Florida-based sal­vage com­pany Re­solve Ma­rine to con­duct an un­der­wa­ter as­sess­ment of the Coim­bra from June 19 to 27 to as­sess the con­di­tion of the tanker and any po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

The Coast Guard is ask­ing boaters to stay 500 yards away from the dive oper­a­tion while the as­sess­ment is un­der­way. Divers and re­mote-op­er­ated ve­hi­cles will be used to sur­vey the wreck.

“This as­sess­ment will help de­ter­mine any po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal threat the tanker poses. Our top pri­or­i­ties are safety of the pub­lic and pro­tec­tion of the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment,” Capt. Kevin Reed, com­man­der of Coast Guard Sec­tor Long Is­land Sound in New Haven, said in a state­ment.

Mem­bers of the Navy Su­per­vi­sor of Sal­vage, the Coast Guard Acad­emy Science Depart­ment, the Coast Guard At­lantic Strike Team, NOAA and the New York Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion will pro­vide con­sul­ta­tion, Reed said.

A day af­ter de­part­ing from New York, the Coim­bra was hit by a G7e tor­pedo from a Ger­man U-boat at 9:41 p.m. Jan. 15, 1942. The crew of

the U-boat had spot­ted the nav­i­ga­tion lights on the stern of the tanker while trav­el­ing east fol­low­ing the south­ern shore of Long Is­land. Of the Coim­bra’s 46-mem­ber crew, only 10 sur­vived — six of whom were wounded — af­ter be­ing res­cued from rafts and a lifeboat in the rough seas by Amer­i­can de­stroy­ers USS Rowan and USS Mayrant, ac­cord­ing to the ca­su­alty nar­ra­tive for the Coim­bra on www. uboat.net.

It was the sec­ond tanker to be sunk off Long Is­land in two days, ac­cord­ing to The Day’s ar­chives.

“A huge tow­er­ing ex­plo­sion lit up the night sky and the cargo of oil quickly caught fire and spread across the wa­ter. Res­i­dents from the Hamp­tons on Long Is­land could see the fire at sea 27 miles away and alerted the au­thor­i­ties,” the ca­su­alty nar­ra­tive said.

The tanker was car­ry­ing about 2.7 mil­lion gal­lons of oil. How much oil re­mains on board is un­known, but a March 2013 as­sess­ment from NOAA says, “The wreck has been de­scribed as an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter wait­ing to hap­pen and es­ti­mates of re­main­ing cargo oil left on­board the wreck have been as high as 35,000 bbl (1,470,000 gal­lons) of lu­bri­cat­ing oil.”


The Bri­tish tanker Coim­bra, pic­tured in this 1941 photo, was tor­pe­doed by a Ger­man U-boat off the coast of Long Is­land on Jan. 15, 1942.

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