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Historic Shipwrecks

In 2010, Congress appropriated $1 million to NOAA to prioritize the potential pollution impacts of individual shipwrecks. Under this project, known as the Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET), NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard set out to identify the most ecologically and economically significant potentially polluting wrecks in U.S. waters.

The agencies began by looking into about 20,000 known shipwrecks. They narrowed their search down by the age of the vessel and the incident, the type of vessel, and the circumstances that led to the vessel’s demise. World War II wrecks, especially tankers such as the Coimbra, were prioritized for their large cargo volumes. The results of the study produced a database of the names and locations of the most potentially environmentally hazardous wrecks — zoning in on 87 high level risk wrecks. Those sites are routinely monitored by the NOAA Satellite and Information Service Satellite Analysis Branch using high resolution visible satellite imagery and synthetic aperture radar. When a satellite report shows possible oiling near one of these wrecks, the Office of Response and Restoration works with the Coast Guard and other partners to monitor, assess, and respond as needed for cleanup and remediation.