Sunken Tanker Could Leak 3 Million Gallons of Oil

An expedition to the ocean floor to investigate whether a ticking environmental time bomb is lying in wait to destroy the California coast is underway

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    A sunken 1941 oil tanker could leak 3 million gallons of crude oil onto the California coast.

    A search and rescue mission is scheduled to go below the surface of the ocean near Monterey soon -- the search is for oil, and California may need to be rescued.

    An unmanned device will determine whether a 70-year old shipwreck contains an environmental catastrophe about to happen today. The SS Montebello was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine in 1941, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The ship, which was carrying up to 3 million gallons of crude oil, is on the ocean floor in 900 feet of water near Cambria, in San Luis Obispo County.

    However, if the tanker does indeed carry that much oil, and the oil leaks, the toll will be statewide. The ship sits only a mile from  the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, according to the newspaper.

    "If there is oil in that ship, eventually the oil is coming out, one way or another -- whether we devise a way to take it out, or whether there's an earthquake, and the ship rolls over and dumps 3 million gallons out," said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game.

    An unmanned device will go down to the wreck to determine how strong the ship's hull is, according to the newspaper. Based on those findings, state officials will need to decide if the oil needs to be pumped out immediately or if it can wait.

    Sunken ships have caused environmental problems before, the newspaper noted. Leaking oil from a freighter sunk in the 1950s near San Francisco killed birds between Point Reyes and Monterey for decades before it was finally removed.

    The Montebello was sunk on Dec. 23, 1941, just two weeks after the United States entered World War II.