U.S. Coast Guard officials say 450,000 gallons of oil have been removed from a leaking tanker that sank during World War II off Long Island, and that oil recovery operations will finish this weekend.
The removal of the oil began May 11 on the sunken British tanker Coimbra after crews found eight tanks that still contained oil, including one with a pinhole leak.
For the past four years, the Coast Guard had been receiving satellite observation reports showing sporadic oil sheens on the ocean surface in the vicinity of the tanker. The tanker sank 30 miles offshore of Shinnecock after it was hit by two torpedoes from a German U-boat on Jan. 15, 1942.
"The 450,000 gallons removed from the Coimbra over the last three months were a hidden threat to the health of Long Island’s marine fishery and the South Shore’s environment," said Basil Seggos, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The ship will remain where it sank, Seggos added.
"The Coimbra now complements New York’s growing network of artificial reefs, which serve as an economic driver for the region’s diving and fishing industries,” he said.
A unified command consisting of the DEC and the Coast Guard oversaw the oil removal supported by more than 100 specialists from government, industry and environmental concerns. The project was accomplished with the assistance of a 6,000-pound remotely operated underwater vehicle.
The Coimbra was loaded with about 2.7 million gallons of lubricating oil — which is denser than gasoline — when it sank, and most of that was thought likely to have spilled or burned when it went down.
The supply ship owned by Britain had set off from Bayonne, New Jersey, and was heading to Halifax, Nova Scotia, when it sank.
“The amount remaining in the vessel is very small and any sheening poses minimal risk to the local environment and no risk to the shoreline,” said Steve Lehmann, senior scientific coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Any further potential environmental impact will be monitored by NOAA and the Coast Guard.
Mariners are encouraged to call 800-424-8802 with any reports of pollution in the area.