WWII Ship Threatens Marine Sanctuary Off Key West

May 31, 2013

The U.S.S. Joseph M. Cudahy sank in the Gulf of Mexico during World War II.
Credit U.S. Coast Guard

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has identified a sunken ship off the coast of Key West as one of several nationwide that could pose a serious environmental problem.

The Joseph M. Cudahy sunk in the Gulf of Mexico during World War II after it was torpedoed by a German U-Boat.

A map of potentially polluting shipwrecks off the U.S. coasts of Florida and North Carolina.
Credit NOAA

While the NASA report lists 36 ship wrecks around the United States as potential oil pollution threats, the Cudahy is one of 17 ships that NOAA said needs to be assessed and possibly removed.

"This report is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the potential oil pollution threats from shipwrecks in U.S. waters," said NOAA spokeswoman Lisa Symons in a statement.

"Now that we have analyzed this data, the Coast Guard will be able to evaluate NOAA's recommendations and determine the most appropriate response to potential threats."

It’s up to the Coast Guard to make the final decision on what is eventually done about the ships.

Officials are worried about how close the Cudahy is to a protected marine habitat in the Gulf. Although the ship is not close to land—it’s about 60 miles northwest of Key West— it's only about 15 miles outside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and strong ocean currents can quickly and easily drag oil into that fragile habitat.

Local fishermen have reported for years that the ship has been leaking oil.

NOAA now plans to survey the wreck starting in June to see how the ship is situated on the ocean floor and try to determine how much oil is on board.

A majority of the 36 high priority wrecks are off the Florida and North Carolina coasts.