Pollution threat feared from WWII tanker wrecks

A sunken Japanese oil tanker from the second world war, one of 52 wrecks on the bottom of Micronesia's Chuuk Lagoon, is releasing streams of diesel bubbles. The resulting oil slick is now at least five kilometres long.

Corrosion experts say the wrecks could collapse, releasing any fuel inside them, within 10 to 15 years. But no-one knows how much fuel they contain because records from the period are scarce. It is known, however, that three of the wrecks are oil tankers, with a total capacity of 32 million litres.

The tankers’ hulls cannot withstand the corrosive saltwater forever. According to New Scientist magazine, the scale of the probem could be huge. A study published in 2006 found 380 tanker wrecks across the bottom of the Pacific.

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