Deep dive to assess pollution risk of World War II shipwreck site off Long Island

The British tanker Coimbra pictured in this 1941 photograph, was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Long Island on Jan. 15, 1942. The U.S. Coast Guard will oversee a deep dive June 19-27, 2018, to assess whether the tanker is leaking oil. (Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)
The British tanker Coimbra pictured in this 1941 photograph, was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Long Island on Jan. 15, 1942. The U.S. Coast Guard will oversee a deep dive June 19-27, 2018, to assess whether the tanker is leaking oil. (Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard wants to find out if a British tanker sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Long Island during World War II is leaking oil.

The 423-foot-long tanker Coimbra is broken into three parts, and is resting on its starboard side about 170 feet below the water roughly 30 miles southeast of Shinnecock, N.Y., off Long Island's south shore.

The Coast Guard has received reports of oil sheens near the wreck from different sources, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's satellite system that can detect oil anomalies, as recently as this year. It has contracted with the Florida-based salvage company Resolve Marine to conduct an underwater assessment of the Coimbra from June 19 to 27 to assess the condition of the tanker and any potential environmental impact.

The Coast Guard is asking boaters to stay 500 yards away from the dive operation while the assessment is underway. Divers and remote-operated vehicles will be used to survey the wreck.

"This assessment will help determine any potential environmental threat the tanker poses. Our top priorities are safety of the public and protection of the marine environment," Capt. Kevin Reed, commander of Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound in New Haven, said in a statement.

Members of the Navy Supervisor of Salvage, the Coast Guard Academy Science Department, the Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team, NOAA and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation will provide consultation, Reed said.

A day after departing from New York, the Coimbra was hit by a G7e torpedo from a German U-boat at 9:41 p.m. Jan. 15, 1942. The crew of the U-boat had spotted the navigation lights on the stern of the tanker while traveling east following the southern shore of Long Island. Of the Coimbra's 46-member crew, only 10 survived — six of whom were wounded — after being rescued from rafts and a lifeboat in the rough seas by American destroyers USS Rowan and USS Mayrant, according to the casualty narrative for the Coimbra on www.uboat.net.

It was the second tanker to be sunk off Long Island in two days, according to The Day's archives.

"A huge towering explosion lit up the night sky and the cargo of oil quickly caught fire and spread across the water. Residents from the Hamptons on Long Island could see the fire at sea 27 miles away and alerted the authorities," the casualty narrative said.

The tanker was carrying about 2.7 million gallons of oil. How much oil remains on board is unknown, but a March 2013 assessment from NOAA says, "The wreck has been described as an environmental disaster waiting to happen and estimates of remaining cargo oil left onboard the wreck have been as high as 35,000 bbl (1,470,000 gallons) of lubricating oil."

j.bergman@theday.com

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