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Ship sunk off South Carolina by German U-boat in WWII poses a threat, historians say

A 75-year-old mystery off the coast of South Carolina took a strange twist Friday, when an expedition of maritime archaeologist and historians tried to find an oil tanker sunk by a German U-boat in 1943.

The fate of the S.S. Bloody Marsh is notorious for several reasons, including the fact the “U-66 surfaced to view the sinking ship and struck one of the lifeboats, knocking the sailors into the sea before leaving the scene,” says maritime archaeologist Mike Brennan, who was part of the NOAA-backed expedition.

Historians have long been puzzled over where it went down, and fear an environmental time bomb is ticking in its cargo holds: 106,496 barrels (4,472,832 gallons) of oil, NOAA says.

On Friday, an expedition called Windows to the Deep 2019 set out to find the ship using “high-resolution mapping data” that indicated something of the right size was sitting 80 miles off South Carolina.

However, what they located was not the Bloody Marsh, a NOAA official told McClatchy.

“The team did not find a shipwreck, but instead encountered several rocky outcrops that hosted a variety of sponges, coral fish and invertebrates,” said Emily Crum, a spokesperson for the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

For now, the Bloody Marsh will stay lost, unless found accidentally, officials told McClatchy. The website Uboat.net suggests it’s likely somewhere off Hilton Head, near the state’s Georgia border.

The Bloody Marsh will continue to pose a threat, because 75 years of corrosion could cause “seams to split and release the oil cargo” at any time, Brennan says.

South Carolina’s popular beaches could feel the impact of that pollution.

The wreck is one of many examples of a German sea campaign that successfully targeted “merchant shipping vessels resupplying Europe” at the height of World War II, he says.

“A torpedo from U-66 struck the aft port side, destroying the engine room and killing three of the crew,” Brennan wrote in a June 29 report. “The rest of the crew and armed guards on the vessel boarded life rafts and escaped. A second torpedo struck the port side amidships and broke the tanker in two, sinking it quickly.”

Maritime archaeologists almost immediately “began to discuss next steps for finding Bloody Marsh,” Brennan says in his report.

“The wreck of this tanker, as well as others sunk by U-boats in World War II, is important to find and document so we can assess the potential pollution threat,” he wrote, “and make a determination about ... how best to mitigate a potential oil spill.”

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