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Geographica
Environment

World War II's Time Bomb
Ships sunk in Pacific are starting to leak oil

The epic sea battles of World War II ended 60 years ago, but a nagging environmental worry remains. How many ships that went to the bottom still contain oil on board—oil that could leak out?

No one knows exactly how many military and cargo vessels went down. But researchers with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme have mapped more than 3,800 ships sunk in the Pacific theater of the war. They fear corrosion will cause oil to leak from hundreds of wrecks.

An example: the U.S.S. Mississinewa. On November 20, 1944, the U.S. Navy oil tanker was blown up by a one-man Japanese suicide submarine near the island of Yap. The wreckage was discovered by divers in 2001. That same year the ship, battered by a typhoon, spilled 24,000 gallons (91,000 liters) of oil into a lagoon. A U.S. Navy salvage team patched two leaks, but this year pumped out the remaining 1.8 million gallons (6.8 million liters) of oil—at a cost of about four million dollars.

At this point no one is certain who will inspect hundreds of other oil-laden ships and who will pay for the cleanup.

—John L. Eliot


Web Links

Austalian Radio National Interview
www.abc.net.au/rn/science/earth/stories/s812339.htm
An Australian Radio network interviews researchers from the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme to learn what they have to say about the pollution threat posed by ships sunk in their region during World War II. 


Discovery of the U.S.S. Mississinewa
www.bentprop.org/mis/mis01.htm
Visit this site to read more about how the U.S.S. Mississiniwea was sunk and how a group of divers with the BentProp Project discovered the wreckage.


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Bibliography

Gilbert, Trevor, and others. "Response to an oil spill from a sunken WWII oil tanker in Yap State, Micronesia," International Oil Spill Conference Paper #186, 2003.

Hadfield, Peter. "Ecowar looming with sunken wartime wrecks," New Scientist (February 23, 2003).

Hodge, Amanda. "Pacific cloaks a toxic time bomb," The Australian, January 17, 2003.

Hoy, Anthony. "Oil storm warning," The Bulletin, March 25, 2003.

Kakesako, Gregg K. "Navy divers prepare to remove oil from sunken WWII ship," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, February 17, 2002.

Lambert, Chris. "The hunt for the last mystery shipwreck," Naval History (April 2003), 38-41.

Radway, Scott. "Navy holds off on removing oil from Yap shipwreck," Pacific Daily News, September 3, 2002.




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