Rescue as yacht drifts towards shipwreck packed with explosives

Three people are rescued after their yacht drifted dangerously close to shipwreck of SS Richard Montgomery in Medway Estuary that is packed with 1,400 tonnes of explosives

  • The yacht was floating in the mouth of the Medway Estuary when alarm raised
  • Its location was close to the infamous wreck of the SS Richard Mongomery 
  • The ship is still packed with 1,400 tonnes of explosions which could explode 

Three fishermen were rescued from their yacht when they drifted dangerously close to a shipwreck packed with 1,400 tonnes of explosives.

The 27ft vessel was floating near the mouth of the Medway Estuary in Kent, close to where the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery lies beneath the surface.

Lifeboat crew were sent from Sheerness in Kent to help the yacht and those on board and a tow rope was then fixed to pull it to safety.

The SS Richard Montgomery is feared to have enough remaining munitions on board to cause a massive 1.4 kiloton explosion which could lead to a four-foot tidal wave in the Thames estuary. 

Lifeguard crews came to the aid of the yacht, carrying three fishermen, and took it ashore. The vessel had drifted towards the notorious wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery

The SS Richard Montgomery’s three masts can still be seen when the tide recedes and a large exclusion zone is monitored at all times

A Coastguard spokesman said of the rescue on Saturday: ‘Post return from the ordnance incident, HM Coastguard Southend were alerted to a vessel which was known to Southend Coastguard…drifting dangerously close to the SS Montgomery wreck on the Kent side of the Thames Estuary.

‘Once intercepted and undertow by the Trent Class lifeboat, it was taken to the end of Southend Pier and transferred to RNLI Southend Lifeboat who launched their Atlantic Class lifeboat to take it onward to Chalkwell on Essex side where it was put to anchor and the 3 casualties transferred to shore to be met by the Southend Coastguard team.

‘Southend Coastguard then proceeded to check firstly the three casualties were not in need of any medical assistance and to ascertain the reasons for their journey (reported fishing trip from night before) and provide some safety advice.

The fishermen onboard the yacht were not injured in the successful rescue attempt over the weekend

‘Essex Police – Southend District were also in attendance to provide additional support and checks over the casualties and vessel.’

Cargo ship SS Richard Montgomery was anchored in Sheerness in Kent when it grounded and broke up in 1944.

The wreck is packed with 1,400 tonnes of explosives which could explode if attempts were made to remove them.

As a result, a 500-metre exclusion zone is monitored round the clock by port authorities.

Concerns that the explosives on board the wreck may detonate were raised in 2019 at Westminster by Labour peer Lord Harris of Haringey.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which monitors the condition of the wreck and carries out regular surveys, said at the time that the risk of a major explosion ‘is believed to be remote’.

What is the SS Richard Montgomery and why is the wreck dangerous? 

The SS Richard Montgomery was a US Liberty Ship built in 1943 to transport cargo across the Atlantic

The 7,200-tonne vessel safely crossed the Atlantic on convoy HX-301 without incident and was ordered to anchor off Sheerness.

The vessel was carrying some 7,000 tonnes of munitions and it was due to carry on to Cherbourg to unload its cargo.

However, on August 20, 1944, the Montgomery dragged her anchor and ran aground on a sandbank around 250 yards from the Medway Approach Channel.

A major salvage operation was launched to unload the vessel’s deadly cargo although, within 24 hours cracks began appearing across the hull and the forward areas began flooding.

By September 25, the salvage operation had to be abandoned after the entire vessel flooded.

The Richard Montgomery was one of 2,700 Liberty ships built during the war.

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