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MP says explosion risk from sunken WW2 munitions ship makes Thames Estuary airport plans a non-starter

06 June 2012

Cambridge Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert claimed on May 31 that the presence of the wrecked munitions ship SS Richard Montgomery "must surely put an end to the bonkers idea of building an airport in the Thames Estuary." The ship, which contains the equivalent of 1,400 tonnes of TNT, lies on the bed of the Thames Estuary, 1.4 miles from the town of Sheerness.

The wrecked WW2 munitions vessel lies just off the Isle of Sheppey on the north Kent coast
The wrecked WW2 munitions vessel lies just off the Isle of Sheppey on the north Kent coast

The latest annual study from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency suggests the hull of the wreck is still deteriorating, and the risk of an explosion, while remote, cannot be ruled out.

The report indicated that while the rate of deterioration was not accelerating, some parts of the ship were impossible to accurately assess without the use of more advanced sonar technology.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has been a keen supporter of plans to build a new hub airport in the Thames estuary on reclaimed land off the north Kent coast.

A spokesperson for the Mayor said: "The Mayor believes the Thames Estuary to the east of the capital is the most logical location to build the type of four-runway hub airport our economy so desperately requires.

"Clearly the wreck of the SS Montgomery would need to be considered, however some of Britain's finest engineers have already closely studied the area and concluded it would not prevent construction of an airport."

But Huppert said: “If this cargo ship was disrupted by construction the explosion would blow out every window in Sheerness, and create a 16ft wave just outside the capital. The last time we tried to move a similar wreck it exploded.”

In July 1967 an attempt was made to retrieve the cargo of the Kielce, a Polish munitions ship that had sunk in 1946 off Folkestone. During preliminary work, the ordnance in the vessel’s hold exploded with force equivalent to an earthquake measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale, digging a six-metre deep crater in the seabed and causing panic in Folkestone, although no-one was injured.

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