Resolve Marine to Lead Evaluation of WWII-Era Tanker Wreck

The bow of the Coimbra and the slick from her cargo, January 15, 1942 (National Archives / NOAA)

By The Maritime Executive 04-28-2019 11:04:57

Beginning Sunday, Resolve Marine Group will be conducting an assessment of the wreck of the WWII-era tanker Coimbra, which may still pose a pollution risk to the U.S. East Coast some 77 years after she went down. 

The initial evaluation will assess the condition of the tanker and what potential environmental impact still exists. If Resolve finds that substantial oil still remains on board, the salvage team will work to the U.S. Coast Guard to try to pump off remaining quantities of petroleum. 

Multiple agencies are involved in the operation, including state officials, multiple Coast Guard offices, the U.S. Navy's SUPSALV division and NOAA.  "Our top priorities are safety of the public and protection of the marine environment," said Capt. Kevin Reed, the commander of USCG Sector Long Island.

The Coimbra was one of the many merchant vessels lost off the U.S. East Coast during what German submarine commanders referred to as the "Second Happy Time," when Axis subs destroyed over 600 Allied ships in the span of eight months.  

On January 14, 1942, the 6,800-ton vessel set sail from New York with a cargo of 64,000 barrels of lubricating oil. The next morning, she encountered the German submarine U-123 at a position 28 nm off the coast of Long Island. At 0940 hours, the sub's crew fired one torpedo, which struck the tanker on the starboard side, resulting in an explosion and fire. A second round struck her below the funnel at 0959, and she broke up quickly. She came to rest on the bottom in three sections, with the midships segment partially buried. 36 out of her 46 crewmembers were lost. 

A 1975 assessment of the wreck estimated the maximum remaining contents of the Coimbra's cargo tanks at 28,500 barrels, not including bunkers. According to a NOAA analysis based on this estimate, the most likely future spill amount would be about 2,900 barrels (120,000 gallons). Depending on prevailing currents, a worst-case spill could result in contamination at beaches between North Carolina and Cape Cod.