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Coast Guard delays inspection of World War II oil tanker the Coimbra

The British tanker Coimbra is seen in this

The British tanker Coimbra is seen in this U.S. Coast Guard photo from 1941.  Credit: US Coast Guard

Inspection of a World War II British oil tanker, sunk in 1942 and resting in waters southeast of Shinnecock Inlet, has been postponed until spring, U.S. Coast Guard officials said Wednesday.

The Coast Guard had announced in June that it would oversee an assessment of the condition of the Coimbra, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat. The tanker was loaded with about 2.7 million gallons of lubricating oil, most of which likely spilled or burned when it went down on Jan. 15, 1942.

The underwater inspection by Florida-based Resolve Marine salvage company was originally to take place from June 19 through 27, according to a Coast Guard news release. It was then pushed to mid-July, as contracts were being finalized, the Coast Guard said.

However, Hurricane Chris, well off the North Carolina coast and heading farther out to sea, has been generating swells that "could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions” for mid-Atlantic shores, the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday. Following on its heels in the coming days and similarly heading out to sea are the remnants of Hurricane Beryl, which was in the vicinity of the Bahamas on Wednesday.

“The safety of our personnel is one of our highest concerns in any mission we conduct,” said Capt. Kevin Reed, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound.

The Coimbra, now on the seabed roughly 30 miles off Shinnecock Inlet, can be assessed only in summer, when the sea is calm enough for divers and other experts.

The Coast Guard has received perhaps one or two reports of oil sheens tied to the wreck from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Lt. Alaina Fagan, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, said in June.

“This assessment will help determine any potential environmental threat the tanker poses,” Reed said, also in June. “Our top priorities are the safety of the public and protection of the marine environment."

The initiative is a joint venture with the Navy Supervisor of Salvage, the Coast Guard Academy Science Department, the Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

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