Expedition Looks For Crude In Sunken Oil Tanker

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The oil tanker S.S. Montebello was sunk by a Japanese submarine during World War II off the coast of California. A recent expedition to the wreck found that oil believed to still be in the ship is not there. It's full of seawater. It's the Al Capone's vault of the sea, if you will.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. Last week, we told you about a potential ecological threat to the California coast: 3.1 million gallons of crude oil in a ship called the Montebello. It's a tanker that was torpedoed by a Japanese sub at the beginning of World War II. It sank off California.

As NPR's Ina Jaffe reported, an expedition set out to discover if the cargo of crude was still on board. And now, she has the results.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: No oil. After multiple tests carried out by a remotely operated submersible, it seems there's mainly seawater in the tanks of the Montebello, says Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for California's Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

ANDREW HUGHAN: It turned out to be the best-case scenario for the people of Central California.

JAFFE: And the fish, seabirds, otters and other critters that live in and around the central coast's Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Back in 1941, when the Japanese torpedo struck the Montebello, it apparently missed the oil tanks. The entire crew escaped in lifeboats, and they reported no explosion and no fire. But Hughan says the definitive test came last week when investigators drilled into the Montebello's hull and took samples.

HUGHAN: It turns out that there is very little oil on the Montebello, and it poses no environmental threat to the Pacific Ocean and the California coast.

JAFFE: What happened to the Montebello's cargo remains a mystery. One theory is that the oil washed out right after the attack as the ship sank 900 feet down to the ocean floor. In any case, the investigation of the Montebello will provide a blueprint for examining some of the hundreds of other wrecks around the U.S. coastline that might still contain oil. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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