SS Richard Montgomery
Diving on the wreck is not allowed period. There is a large exclusion area around the wreck and multiple warning signs posted around it. British authorities constantly monitor the wreck and do an in depth inspection of the hull's integrity once every year. The wreck contains 15,000 tons of wartime explosives; a good percentage of which are unstable explosives capable of detionating if they were to come in contact with oxygen of any kind. The wreck has been a subject of several near misses, lying in the middle of a busy shipping channel on the Thames Estuary in very shallow water.
~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude: 51° 27' 56.8584" N Longitude: 0° 47' 11.2812" E
The location of the wreck is provided in detail by the official website regarding the history and dangers of the Richard Montgomery.
The Richard Montgomery was built in 1943 at the St. John's River Shipbuilding Company in Jacksonville, Florida. She was named after General Richard Montgomery who had lost his life in the American Revolution. On August 1944, Richard Montgomery was loaded with a full cargo of explosives and muntions including aerial bombs in the forward area of the ship. The Liberty Ship left Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and crossed the Atlantic utltimately bound for Cherbourg, France. Richard Montgomery arrived at the Thames Estuary where she was to wait for and then join a convoy headed for Cherbourg. While in waiting, poor actions on behalf of the supervising British naval leftenant caused the Richard Montgomery to run aground. When low tide came, the liberty ship broke its back on the sands and slowly sank under the estuary over the next several months. Before the ship was completely sunk, a large section of the midships was removed safely removing only a fraction of the explosives aboard. An inquiry blamed the American captain of the Richard Montgomery rather than find the British leftenant responsible for the sinking.
The wreck of the Richard Montgomery lies in two main sections with a large section of the midships missing, having been removed during the war safely removing only a fraction of the explosives. Most of the ship's lethal cargo still lies crammed into the bow section. The bow and stern sections are in good shape and the three main masts of the ship are sticking above the water. The masts also contain warning signs to keep explorers from approaching. Four buoys around her remains mark an exclusion zone in which only authorized personnel are allowed to enter. The buoys also contain warning signs. Shipwreck and monitoring experts are worried the hull might partially collapse soon leading to a catastrophic explosion. A fraction of the 15,000 tons of explosives still crammed within her hull are composed of unstable material, which will detonate if the material comes into direct contact with oxygen. Moreso, an accidental collision with another vessel may detonate the Richard Montgomery's ammunitions which could also cause the feared catastrophic explosion.
If Richard Montgomery were to explode, the blast wave would heavily damage the towns of Sheerness and Southend-On-Sea. Furthermore, large primary and secondary tidal waves would be triggered, which would impact towns up to several miles away on the Thames Estuary. Sheerness would be in the most danger from the blast. Flaming debris would rain down on Sheerness from the wreck. To make matters worse, an oil refinery near the opening to the channel would be damaged and explode causing further problems. Lastly a minor earthquake effect would be felt by the neighboring communities from the explosion. The British parliament is still trying to decide means of preventing the explosion, but hasn't approved a solution or funding as of 2016.
In 2015, a paddleboarder ignored the placed restrictions, waded out to the Richard Montgomery and touched one of the three protruding masts creating massive social media outrage and heated discussions. If the ship were to explode, the effects may be a modern day recreation of the 1917 Halifax Explosion, where a similar munitions ship, the SS Mont Blanc exploded creating what was the largest man made explosion until the Trinity nuclear bomb test 1945.