Sunday, August 22, 2004

 

Bomb on the Doorstep

Just came across a story on the ABC news, that really brings home how much governments and the military machine, hold in contempt the lives of ordinary citizens, when it comes to saving money and avoiding doing their civic duty. This story has been ongoing for sixty years, but I'd never heard of it until today and I'm sure that I'm not the only one.

On August 20th 1944, the American liberty ship USS Richard Montgomery was in the Thames Estuary, off of Sheerness, waiting to join a convoy taking munitions across the channel to France for the Allied advance into Germany. It ran aground on a sandbank in the unpredictable tides, carrying a full load of bombs, detonators and high explosive. An effort was made by stevedores from the local Medway ports to unload as much as possible from the sinking ship, but a storm blew up causing the ship's hull to crack, so it could not be re-floated. Efforts to remove the remaining bombs were then abandoned, in mid-September 1944 and nothing has been done since.

The wreck of the USS Richard Montgomery remains in the estuary today, with it's masts sticking forlornly up out of the water, with an exclusion zone around it and a few warning signs pinned to the wreckage. Estimates vary but onboard is somewhere between 1,400 tonnes or 3,200 tons of TNT in roughly 14,000 separate bombs, that have been corroding in salt water for sixty years making a highly volatile cocktail. If they could be detonated, either by an accident or an act of terrorism, it would create a blast zone 300m in diameter, shoot a mix of mud, water, metal and bomb fragments 2km into the sky, and cause a 5m tidal wave to hit the north Kent coast. Sheerness is only 1.5 miles from the wreck site, Gillingham, Rochester & Chatham approx 3miles, the Isle of Grain Oil Refinery is only a few hundred metres away. In theory an explosion on the Montgomery could cause the biggest non-nuclear explosion ever known, one tenth the size of Hiroshima.

In 1969 student pranksters boarded the wreck and threatened to blow it up, and with the busy shipping lanes that pass close by, there have been at least 24 near misses. In 1948 and 1967, the Americans offered to make the wreck safe and remove the offending weapons - the British Government refused, saying that the bombs were safer where they were. Now a new proposal is being suggested that the wreck should be enclosed in concrete to keep it safe, still the Government are keeping quiet.

What kind of men are they in the Admiralty, the Government etc, that would allow a potentially lethal time bomb, such as this to sit undisturbed for sixty years, on the doorstep of their country's capital? How can we ever trust them when they say they have our best interests at heart? If they can ignore this danger in their own country, what are they ignoring overseas, in countries where they are currently involved in armed conflict?

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