“Although there are approximately 20,000 shipwrecks in U.S. waters, we now know that most of them are unlikely to be substantial pollution threats. Using initial screening factors (age, location, construction material, propulsion type, type, and size), 573 wrecks were identified as potentially containing larger amounts of oil. Secondary screening factors that relied on archival research and original documents for details, such as structural integrity and potential cargo and bunker capacities, reduced the list to 87 wrecks known or suspected to pose a substantial pollution threat,” the Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET), risk assessment reported.
The report continues, “The majority of these are associated with World War II casualties in the Battle of the Atlantic. As of 2013, the average age of each wreck is 83 years old, as many were built or retrofitted for service during WWII. A consequence analysis consisting of oil spill trajectory and fate modeling and an assessment of ecological and socio-economic resources at risk was conducted for the 87 wrecks. Based on vessel pollution potential factors and ecological/socio-economic impact scores, a final relative risk score was assigned to each. Further assessments to determine the vessel condition, amount of oil on board, and the feasibility of oil removal action were recommended for seventeen (17) vessels with known locations. Other recommendations included surveys of opportunity to identify the actual or best-guess location of each wreck in applicable oil spill contingency plans (so that if a mystery spill occurs, the wreck(s) can be investigated as a possible source), monitoring the condition of known wrecks, surveys to locate wrecks with unknown locations, and outreach to local communities. Recent surveys leveraged assets engaged in other activities, yielding additional information on a number of the high and medium priority targets.” Some of these vessels are beneath the Long Island waters!
A little over one month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 on Wednesday, January 14, 1942, World War II entered Long Island waters, when the U-123 submarine torpedoed and sunk the Norness, a 9,577-ton Panamanian tanker with Captain Harold Hansen and crew, 60-miles off Montauk Point.
The U-123, a German submarine was an IXB U-boat of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine; however, after World War II, she became the French submarine Blaison (Q165) until decommissioned on August 18, 1959. During World War II, October 6, 1940 to May 9, 1943, she was responsible for sinking forty-three (43) vessels and damaging six (6) vessels. Among those were eight (8) sunk, and four (4) damaged United States vessels.
On January 15, 1942, a second oil tanker, the Coimbra was also torpedoed and sunk by the U-123. Today, they lie with other shipwrecks beneath the Long Island waters, as high risk and potentially oil polluting sunken wrecks.
The same day, the News-Herald newspaper (Franklin, PA) reported this was the first enemy submarine action off the eastern seaboard. The torpedoing of the Panamanian tanker Norness brought death, injuries, and sent seaman to hospitals. Those hospitalized suffered from immersion, exposure and nausea from contact with oily sea water. No American seamen were in the Norness crew, which was mainly Scandinavian and Norwegian.
Three (3) torpedoes were fired at 10-minute intervals with the first from close range on the Norness port side. The submarine circled the Norness and torpedoed her on the starboard side, and circled her again firing a third torpedo at the port side. During this attack, the Norness transmitted an emergency message, but there was no response. Two (2) torpedoes had missed her, 27 minutes later, a fourth (4th) was fired, and final a fifth (5th), which hit sinking the Norness.
Admiral Edward Clifford Kalbfus, known as “Old Dutch” (1877-1954), commander of the Battle Force of the US Fleet from 1938 to 1939, Newport, Rhode Island during a press conference at the Naval War College gave the Norness official casualty toll.
“Those missing are presumed dead,” the Admiral stated. They were Kaare Reinertsen, and Eeil Bremseth, Scandinavians of unknown addresses. One of the seamen, Nils Mikalsen received a fractured kneecap, and contusions. The Captain and eight (8) crew members were rescued near Block Island and taken to New Bedford, MA in the Malvina D., a fishing boat. They were later transported to the naval base by naval authorities.
Kalbfus had been president of the Naval War College from 1934 to 1936 and would return again as president from 1939 to 1942.
The Malvina D’s Captain Mangus Isaksen gave his account, which was printed in the United Press, of New Bedford, MA of the first torpedoing off the eastern US seaboard in World War II. He wrote how Capt. Hansen, of the Norness, said, “…how the submarine passed so close to his lifeboat that he could hear the crew talking in guttural voices.” The crew in the lifeboats crouched down to avoid being hit by possible machine-gunning from the submarine.
Earlier in the month, the US Navy “was dealing with one or more enemy submarines menacing the east coast,” the article stated. It seems the German submarine used an Axis sneak strategy, attacking by night without warning.
The newspaper continued, “…it was no secret that the Atlantic Coast on which border the nation’s largest cities, most busy ports, and richest industrial districts were closely protected by warplanes, surface ships, submarines, and enemy submarines operating offshore were in imminent peril.”
According to the Admiral, the Norness was “beyond towing and probably beyond salvaging. The newspapers mentioned that the Norness vessels’ exact location was not revealed; however, she was torpedoed 60-miles southeast of Montauk Point.
The tanker Norness was sunk Wednesday, Jan 14th, and the Coimbra, a 6,768-ton tanker, 422 feet long was also hit by a German submarine’s torpedo off Long Island the next morning, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 17th issue.
“The Southampton Hospital, it was learned had been notified at 3 p. m. to prepare beds, for survivors of a ship disaster, but no survivors had arrived last night.”
“The Navy announced today (Friday, January 16, 1942) that the tanker Coimbra, flying the flag of an allied nation, was ‘assumed to have been torpedoed’ by an enemy submarine about 100 miles east of New York” off Shinnecock Inlet, Long Island, according to the Daily Inter Lake newspaper (Kalispell, Mo).
The Coimbra, a steam tanker was built in 1937 by Howaldtswerke and owned by Socony Vacuum Transportation Co., Ltd with her home port being London.
On Thursday, Jan. 15th, the vessel and Captain John Patrick Barnard had been observed sinking, and the US Navy had no idea as to the number of survivors. It seems the tanker had left Bayonne, New Jersey on Jan. 14th, in route to Halifax, Nova Scotia, then the United Kingdom with 8,038 tons of lubricating oil.
The first torpedo hit the Coimbra’s starboard side causing an explosion that lit up the East End of Long Island skies. The oil cargo had caught fire! She was hit again by a second torpedo and her stern sunk immediately.
Captain Barnard, twenty-nine (29) crew members, and six (6) gunners were lost. There were ten (10) survivors of which six (6) were wounded. Two seamen were picked up by the USS Rowan (DD405) and taken to Argentia, Newfoundland. The remaining four (4) were rescued by an American destroyer, who took the men to St. Johns.
It seems the US Navy Department, Washington DC could not confirm a Coast Guard report of the sinking of the Coimbra.
Captain Hardegan and the crew of the U-123 had also sunk the tanker “Cyclops” off Nova Scotia. The tanker had a crew of forty-six (46); thirty-six (36) died and 10 survived.
On January 17, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Navy warships, planes, patrol boats, and blimps continued to search the east coast for the enemy submarine or submarines that sank tankers off Long Island.
The Eagle reported in their Jan. 20th issue, “The Navy was striking back today to eliminate the German submarine menace along the Atlantic seaboard which within six days has cost the United States four (4) oil tankers, three (3) sunk by torpedoes, and one (1) damaged by shell fire and torpedo.” The German underwater campaign was targeting oil tankers between the Caribbean and middle Atlantic ports. The next tanker under attack and sunk was the Allan Jackson off the North Carolina coast on Jan. 18th.
The latest victim of the U-123 submarine in United States waters was the American tanker Malay, an 8,206-ton Gulf Oil Company ship. She was shelled and torpedoed off the North Carolina coast. One (1) of its crew of 33 was dead; four (4) are missing.”
The Malay was singled out of a group of ships and remained under attack for 90-minutes. “Countermeasures being taken against the submarine attacks were a military secret.” Seventy-one (71) years later, the history of the sinking the Coimbra that lie beneath the Long Island waters, and other tankers have become a potential polluting focus!
The June 13, 2018 issue of Newsday, a Long Island newspaper reported that the US Coast Guard postponed a deep dive to assess the Coimbra. The US Coast Guard has contracted with the Resolve Marine Salvage Co., a Florida based company specializing in removing tankers buried at sea, to assess the condition of the British tanker Coimbra. It seems the Coimbra had been observed to be leaking oil!
Back in 2013, the US Coast Guard began receiving periodic satellite reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showing “oil anomalies” near 17 high risk known and potentially polluting sunken wrecks in U.S. waters. This also led to preparing the risk assessment, Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats project (RULET).
Today, the 423-foot-long Coimbra is broken into three (3) parts rests on her starboard side about 170-feet below the Atlantic Ocean waters, 30-miles southeast of Shinnecock, N.Y.
The underwater Coimbra assessment was originally scheduled to take place June 19-27; however was postponed to July 15-23 due to logistical concerns, according to Lt. Alaina Fagan, public affairs officer, US Coast Guard on Long Island.
The US Coast Guard believes summerlike conditions are needed to conduct the investigation, “when waters are typically less choppy.” The next step will be determined by Resolve Marine Salvage Company Team findings!
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report, The Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET) Risk Assessment for Potentially Polluting Shipwrecks in U.S. Waters is available online as a pdf.