Oil spills are bad. They have a nasty habit of killing all the happy little fishes, mermaids and sea monkeys that live in the vast oceans. Fortunately, major leaks like Lakeview Gusher of 1910 are rarer than seeing Pope Pious in a break dancing smack down with eminem! Modern safety procedures, like those supposedly followed by BP, have ensured that all but a catastrophic event can be easily contained.
But did you know that the oceans are chock full of an oozing wall of death that’s set to wipe out thousands of animal species? That’s the lethal legacy of the huge number of World War II shipwrecks that are now littering the ocean bed.
Here are 5 of the biggest threats:
The USS Arizona was the iconic battleship sunk by the Japanese during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour. The ship is estimated to contain about 600,000 gallons of fuel oil which, if released, could have a devastating effect on wild life. The fact that this ship is also a war memorial makes removing the oil a sensitive issue.
Fortunately for humans and animals alike, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association think the ship should fuel compartments are safe, for now. The heavy plates of armour used to protect the ship should be safe from structural collapse for at least a couple of hundred years.
Sunk in 1944 by a Japanese suicide submarine, the U.S.S. Mississinewa was estimated to be carrying over three million gallons of fuel. Over the years, the wreck, which currently lies near the island of Yap, has been repeatedly battered by storms and typhoons. In 2001 the hull started to fracture and release oil into the sea.
A cleanup team was sent in to assess the situation and, based on the information they supplied, it was decided to pump out the remaining contents of the fuel tanks. Over the course of several months, the cleanup process managed to recover over two million gallons of oil which was refined and sold to claw back some of the cleanup costs.
Built in 1942, the Esso Gettysburg was sunk a year later in 1943 off the coast of Georgia. German U-boats were operating off the coast of the USA for most of the Second World War and the dubious honour for sinking this ship goes to U-66. Two torpedoes slammed into the tanker rupturing a number of oil tanks and sending a spray of crude into the air. The ship finally sank at about 0300 on June 12th.
Although the Gettysburg lost a large quantity of its cargo during the attack, it’s estimated that about 115,000 barrels are still on board. To put that into perspective, that’s over 240,000 gallons of oil lurking inside the hull. No attempts have been made to extract the oil but the current high risk grading given by the NOAA means an attempt is imminent.
Albert L Ellsworth
Given the slightly U.S bias you’ve seen so far, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Great Britain played a bit part in WWII. In fact, a huge number of British tankers were sent to the dark depths during the course of the war. One of biggest was the Albert L Ellsworth which was sunk near Trinidad in 1943.
No exact figures are given for the cargo that the Ellsworth was carrying but the manifest suggests she was carrying about 11,473 tonnes of fuel oil. There are about 320 gallons to a tonne which means the ship had about 3.7 million gallons on board. That’s enough to keep your car running until the sun goes supernova and collapses in on itself – in about 5 billion years!
Half The Japanese Fleet In Chuuk Lagoon
Located near Micronesian island Palau, Chuuk lagoon is the final resting place of what has nicknamed the Ghost Fleet. Most of the ships in the lagoon are Japanese warships that were sunk during a three-day engagement with Allied forces in 1944. Like the USS Arizona, many of wrecks are classed as military graves making any cleanup a sensitive issue.
There are no accurate figures for the amount of fuel and oil that the ships collectively contain but, if the Hoyo Maru is anything to go by, it could be a vast quantity. The Japanese tanker, which was sunk by an American bomb contains about two million gallons of oil. Unlike the Arizona, the tanker is already leaking oil into the lagoon.
In the grand scheme of things, the figures don’t look that impressive but, collectively, experts reckon there are about 3 trillion gallons of oil and fuel held in shipwrecks around the world. That’s a lot of dead sealife.