BRUNSWICK, Ga – Offshore Jekyll Island is a lost wreck rated as the second most potentially polluting wrecks in U.S. waters, the Esso Gettysburg which sank violently by a German U-boat in 1943.
This is one of many underwater graveyards from World War II that still pose an environmental danger off the Florida and North Carolina coasts.
A NOAA monitoring group ranks the wreck as having the second most damaging potential for ecological and socio-economic impact.
Anyone visiting Pearl Harbor in Hawaii would notice the oil sheen leaking from the USS Arizona in the wake of the 1941 Japanese air bombing.
Oil leaks like this are know to resurface from other hidden shipwrecks over the decades forming mystery spills that harm coastal economies and environments.
The Esso Gettysburg is a derelict oil tanker believed to be sitting upright 2,300 feet at the bottom of the Atlantic 106 miles from shore.
Time continues to corrode fuel tanks that were full of bunker fuel when it went down.
Accurate estimates of the total remaining West Texas crude oil trapped in tanks is uncertain since some oil spread into the water after two torpedoes strikes and an explosion burned oil sending smoke over 1000 feet in the air.
Based on estimates of the maximum amount of oil remaining onboard the wreck,
a worst case discharge would involve the release of all of the cargo oil and bunkers present on the vessel which would be 132,000 barrels of oil.
Computer modeling predicts 139 miles of shoreline would be contaminated by at least 1 gram per square meter of crude oil after the Gulf Stream transported the slick to the Outer Banks.
NOAA rates the wreck as having a high potential for oil leaks and environmental fouling with the potential for tarballs washing ashore North Carolina beaches.
The odds are unlikely all the oil would be released at once but a storms could disturb the wreck triggering small, episodic releases.
Another scenario is a very low regular release of oil that causes continuous oiling with impacts over the course of a long period of time. This type of release would likely be precipitated by corrosion of piping that allows oil to flow or bubble out at a slow, steady rate.
Satellites are used to track oil leaking from wrecks and one possible oil discharge was detected near Cape Canaveral in September 2018.
Because the exact location is not know, any mariner who frequents the area is urged to keep watch for any sheen or interesting sonar recordings.