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WW II U-boat attacks prompt new US response

Rusting wrecks poised to pollute

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May 1943 is held by many to have been the turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic.

“Black May”, as it has come to be known, saw 43 U-boats destroyed by allied forces. That number that reduced the size of the German submarine fleet to levels that meant later convoys stood a far better chance of successful Atlantic crossings. The materiel they carried helped the war effort immensely.

70 years on, however, some of the ships sunk in the Battle of the Atlantic present a new problem.

To understand how, consider that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's has just published a “Risk Assessment for Potentially Polluting Wrecks in U.S. Waters” (PDF, thanks to Mother Jones for the tip).

That report says “The vast majority of potentially polluting shipwrecks lost in U.S. waters can be tracked to a four-year period between 1941 and 1945 when Japanese and German submarines sought to destroy tankers and freighters along the relatively undefended U.S. coasts.” During the war those wrecks caused plenty of pollution: oil washed up on beaches.

Today, some of those wrecks are thought still to contain oil. Some just had fuel in their tanks. Others were tankers.

Hence worries expressed in the report about 36 “higher risk wrecks” that investigations – or lack of knowledge – suggest represent big pollution risks.

Of those vessels, we count at least 19 listed as having been sunk near the USA's east coast during World War II and the NOAA says their prevalence on the list of 36 “reflect the intensity of World War II casualties in the Battle of the Atlantic."

The after-effects of the battle seem, thankfully, to be preventable as the NOAA plans expeditions to investigate and, when possible, remediate the wrecks to prevent further pollution.

Karl Dönitz loses again! ®

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