The US Coast Guard were evaluating a plan to remove oil from a tanker that was sunk in the Second World War and is now leaking.
On Dec 23, 1941, the German submarine U-123 sailed from the U-boat base at Lorient on the Bay of Biscay and headed across the North Atlantic, arriving in Canadian waters.
The first merchant ship to be sunk by enemy action in Canadian-US waters in 1942 after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941, was the ‘football ship’ Cyclops, 9,076grt, of Alfred Holt & Co, Liverpool, which was sunk south-east of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, on Jan 11 by the U-123. Eighty-eight of the crew died, and 89 survivors were picked up by the Royal Canadian Navy minesweeper Red Deer. The cargo ship was bound from Australia to Britain.
On the morning of Jan 14, the Panama-flag tanker Norness, 9,577grt, of the Tanker Corporation, part of the Viking Tanker Co, of London, was on her way from New York to join a convoy at Halifax, carrying a full cargo of 12,000 tons of fuel oil for Liverpool, when she was torpedoed by the U-123 near Long Island and sank with the loss of one of her crew.
In 1939, the tanker was being built for the German whaling company Hamburger Walfang-Kontor GmbH by Deutsche Werft AG, Hamburg, when she was sold to Norwegian owners as part-exchange for the whale factory ship Vikingen, 14,772grt, and she was completed in May, 1939, as the Norness.
The tanker Coimbra, 6,768grt, of the Socony-Vacuum Transportation Co, of Montreal and registered in London, had also sailed from New York for Halifax to join a convoy and her cargo of some 9,000 tons of lubricating oil was to be discharged at a port on the west coast of Britain. She had a crew of 40 and carried six gunners. The tanker had been built by Howaldtswerke A G, of Kiel, in 1937.
On Jan 15, south-east of Rhode Island, the U-boat intercepted the Coimbra and shortly before 0900 fired one torpedo which hit her on the starboard side at the aft end of the bridge structure. The huge explosion started a fierce fire which quickly spread and the tanker took a list to starboard as water flooded in to the hole. Less than an hour later, the U-boat fired another torpedo which hit the burning tanker in the engine room and another explosion started more fires. The burning tanker could clearly be seen from the shore before she sank by the stern.
Twenty-five of her crew were listed as missing, one man died and 10 died in the lifeboats. Only 10 were saved.
The wreck of the Coimbra is around 30 miles south-east of Shinnecock, in New York state. There are fears that the oil now leaking from the wreck of the Coimbra could pose a risk to the environment. In April this year, the USCG signed a contract with the Resolve Marine Group to make a full assessment of the oil remaining on board and the condition of the tanker.