Video: Salvors Complete Oil Removal from WWII Tanker Wreck

Crews aboard the offshore vessel Sheila Bordelon offload more than 450,000 gallons of oil from the Coimbra (USCG)

Published Jul 22, 2019 1:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

The effort to mitigate pollution risk from the sunken WWII-era tanker Coimbra are now nearing completion, and salvors have recovered about 450,000 gallons of petroleum from the wreck since May - about 99 percent of the oil remaining on board. 

The U.S. Coast Guard and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation led the response, with support from more than 100 team members from industry and government, including personnel from Resolve Marine Group. “Each agency involved during the planning, assessment and recovery stages of the response played a critical role.” said Capt. Kevin Reed, the Coast Guard incident commander. “Our federal, state, local and commercial partners and response crews ensured a safe, efficient and productive operation."

According to DEC commissioner Basil Seggos, the oil aboard the Coimbra posed a hidden threat to Long Island's fisheries and beaches in the event that her tanks should ever be breached. The hull is still in place at a site about 30 miles off the coast of Shinnecock, New York, but nstead of a source of risk, it will now be an asset for tourism. "The Coimbra now complements New York’s growing network of artificial reefs, which serve as an economic driver for the region’s diving and fishing industries," Seggos said. 

The WWII-era 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 Coimbra 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 torpedo 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. An analysis by NOAA determined that before the vessel's cargo was pumped off and the risk was abated, a worst-case spill could have resulted in contamination at beaches between North Carolina and Cape Cod.