The Royal Navy has been called in to dismantle a sunken warship in the River Thames. The latest assessment says 1,400 tonnes of unstable explosives on board could cause “mass damage and loss of life”.

Bomb disposal experts trained in underwater demolitions have been tasked with making safe the SS Richard Montgomery. The latest survey warned any further deterioration of the ship could “trigger the unexploded ordnance”.

The Ministry of Defence says the nearby oil and gas facilities in Sheerness are threatened. So, if the wreck exploded, “it would throw a 300m wide column of water and debris nearly 3,000m into the air and generate a wave 5m high”.

The SS Richard Montgomery, is an American Liberty ship carrying a cargo of munitions during the Second World War. It was wrecked on the Nore sandbank in the Thames Estuary, near Sheerness, in August 1944.

About 1,400 tonnes of explosives remain on board, and within the River Thames. A no-entry exclusion zone extends around the wreck.

The most recent Department for Transport survey found the ship’s three masts are in a poor state and are deteriorating.

The MoD has warned that if one or all of the ship’s masts collapse, the unexploded ordnance still located in the forward holds could detonate. Accordingly, Navy specialists have been tasked with safely removing the masts.

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