Anti-monuments of Southend-on-Sea is an ongoing project cataloguing un-officiated or accidental remnants in the landscape of South Essex and the Thames Estuary that signify a critical representation of our shared histories, often tied to local knowledge, governance or historical events that are perhaps lesser known.

#1 Ship Full of Bombs: Do Nothing 

SS Montgomery/’Ship Full of Bombs’: A WWII liberty ship which has been wrecked on the Nore sandbank in the Thames Estuary since 1944. The ship contains 1,400 tonnes of TNT explosives (13-15,000 individual bombs). Monitored by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), several declassified government documents indicate the wreck has not been removed due to expense, maintaining the status quo of ‘monitoring without intervention’. Several options have been considered for its management, including ‘do nothing’, the construction of a dam using London Clay around the wreck as a long-term natural barrier or the ‘duluxe’ version of containment; a sarcophagus structure to entomb the wreck for as a long as possible. Every option runs the risk of mass detonation. ⁣

More recent surveys of the ship indicate that its structure is deteriorating and that the prospect of collapse is becoming increasingly likely. In such an event, the detonation of the ships lethal cargo could be triggered, causing a tidal wave which would hit the surrounding coastal communities, smashing the glass of buildings, and causing hearing damage. The government claims to be undertaking ‘prudent risk management’, and this year a company were contracted to remove the masts of the ship to reduce ‘undue strain’ on the rest of the structure. The long-term management of the wreck remains contested and unclear. ⁣

It is strange to think how this known risk has become a part of our reality and culture, visible from the shoreline at Southend and Sheerness. Several of the MCA reports mention the wreck is used as a marker for the Nore sandbank and is one of many reasons why plans for a ‘Thames Hub Airport’ have been abandoned. For some reason, the idea of living with a risk without any decisive intervention or will to stabilise the surrounding environment resonates far beyond this wreck.
Los Angeles, Calif.