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Inspection of World War II British tanker sunk in LI waters delayed

The British oil tanker Coimbra is seen in

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

The inspection of a World War II British oil tanker that a German U-boat sank off of Shinnecock will be delayed until mid-July to finalize contracts, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Tuesday.

The Florida-based Resolve Marine is being hired to evaluate the steam tanker, the Coimbra SS, which was loaded with about 2.7 million gallons of lubricating oil.

That is about one-fifth the amount of crude oil spilled into Alaska’s Prince William Sound when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989.

Most of the Coimbra’s cargo of lubricating oil — which is denser than gasoline and thus floats less readily — likely spilled or burnt up when it went down on Jan. 15, 1942.

The Coast Guard has only received perhaps one or two reports of oil sheens from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration that are tied to the wreck, explained Lt. Alaina Fagan, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, by telephone.

‘We would expect it would be leaking a lot more if anything close to that amount was spilling from it and polluting — and it’s been there since 1942,” she said.

The tanker, broken in three, now rests about 30 miles southeast of the Shinnecock Inlet in 170 feet of water.

It can only be assessed in summer, when the sea is calm enough for the divers and other experts.

If any quantities of lubricating oil are found, the Coast Guard will evaluate whether it can be safely removed.

An historical website said U-boat 123’s attack on the unescorted Coimbra sparked blasts.

“A huge towering explosion lit up the night sky and the cargo of oil quickly caught fire and spread across the water,” according to Uboat.net.

“Residents from the Hamptons on Long Island could see the fire at sea 27 miles away and alerted the authorities,” it added.

A second torpedo caused the ship to sink stern-first; the bow eventually joined it at the bottom of the sea, the web site said.

Only 10 of the 46 crew members survived, the website said.

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