POSE A NEW
IN 1943, A TANKER CALLED GULFSTATE left Galveston carrying 78,000 barrels of crude oil destined for Portland, Maine.
Six days later, about 50 miles from Marathon
Key, Florida, the ship was hit by two tor-pedoes fired from a German submarine.
The Gulfstate sank, leaving 43 dead and 18
survivors. The ship has never been located,
and perhaps more importantly, neither has
the oil. The Gulfstate is one of 87 shipwrecks identified by the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as
potential pollution sources in a recent report
to the U.S. Coast Guard.
NOAA combed their database of 20,000
shipwrecks, narrowing the field to less than
100 priority cases, 36 of which were considered high priority like the Gulfstate, the worst
offender by NOAA’s reckoning. No one
knows how much, if any, oil the Gulfstate
still holds in its tanks, so the agency applied
a formula of probabilities to it and other
wrecks, taking into account the amount
of oil in its original cargo, whether oil was
reported on the water (survivors reported
swimming through fire), and whether the
vessel was torpedoed (it was) or known to
have broken up (it wasn’t).
The report and detailed sub-reports on
each vessel were put together to allow the
Coast Guard to determine what, if any,
action was needed to avoid a potential
environmental threat. In the Gulfstate’s case,
NOAA didn’t recommend any further action.
For other similar ships, like the torpedoed
tanker Francis E. Powell, now a recreational
dive site lying in shallow water off the coast
of Virginia, and still holding an unknown
quantity of bunker oil and gasoline, NOAA
recommended a joint dive expedition with
the Coast Guard to check on the cargo. The
full report and detailed reports on other
wrecks are available at NOAA’s website:
www.sanctuaries.noaa.gov/protect/ppw — C.L.