The tanker SS Bloody Marsh, which was sunk by the German submarine U-66 during World War II, has been sought by NOAA for several years. All because of the enormous threat posed by the wreck, which rests at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, somewhere off the coast of South Carolina.
NOAA Ocean Exploration specialists thought they had found the wreck of the SS Bloody Marsh two years ago. Back then, during the Windows to the Deep 2019 expedition. At the time, they performed a multibeam sonar survey in the region where the Germans are believed to have sunk the tanker. Unfortunately, the object that the researchers picked out on the sonar scans was not a wreck.
The researchers sent a remotely operated ROV to the bottom with, among other things, a high-end camera set. On visual inspection, the likely wreck turned out to be nothing more than a rocky outcrop. The tanker SS Bloody Marsh thus remained undiscovered and continued to pose a threat of environmental disaster.
The SS Bloody Marsh is listed by NOAA as one of 87 wrecks with the potential to contaminate the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It was therefore important for the research team to find the vessel and perform a reconnaissance using an ROV. Such a survey would assess the level of degradation of the tanker and the risks it poses.
There has finally been a breakthrough in the search. All thanks to information provided to the NOAA team by Jack Irion, an employee of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). They determined the location of oil patches on the water surface thanks to satellite images. Based on this data, a new search area was delineated.
Last summer, while carrying out tasks as part of the Windows to the Deep 2021 expedition, NOAA researchers located the wreck of the SS Bloody Marsh. The vessel rests at a depth of about 4km, and the location coincides perfectly with oil patches that were visible on satellite images.
Scientists from NOAA Ocean Exploration sent a remotely operated ROV to the bottom. It turned out that they located the stern part of the wreck. The vessel broke after being hit by torpedoes and the bow section most likely sank to the bottom a piece further. Based on the examination of the wreck, the researchers familiarised themselves with the condition of the vessel and the fuel tanks. They also looked at construction details, which allow the wreck to be identified with a high degree of probability.
Given the location, the oil stains, the damage from the torpedo attack, the way the plating was joined and the general appearance and parameters of the wreck, I am convinced that this is the wreck of the SS Bloody Marsh tanker. Although we did not observe an active oil spill. The documented oil stains appeared periodically and are probably sporadic. Overall the hull section appears relatively intact. Further investigation would allow us to locate the bow section, which also contains at least one pair of cargo tanks and would help complete the story of this wreck – NOAA’s summary reads.
It was a T2-SE-A1 type tanker. The Americans built the vessel in 1943 at the Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company shipyard in Pennsylvania. The ship delivered its first oil shipment of nearly 4.5 million gallons from Houston to New York.
Shortly afterwards, on 2 July 1943, the tanker SS Bloody Marsh was sighted by U-boat U-66, near the coast of South Carolina. As a result of a torpedo attack by the German submarine, the tanker was hit in the port side near the stern. The explosion destroyed the engine room. Three members of the crew were killed. The remaining sailors and armed guards evacuated to lifeboats.
The second torpedo hit SS Bloody Marsh on the port side amidships. The tanker broke in half and sank very quickly. After the attack was completed, the German U-66 surfaced to see the effects of his actions. It then hit one of the lifeboats, throwing the survivors into the sea. Moments later the Germans dived back and left the area.
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