SS “Richard Montgomery” - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:11 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 8:11 pm, 3rd July 2019

I will have to write to the noble Lord in response to that.

He asked about the assessment made by the Royal Military College of Science in 1970. More recent studies have suggested different outcomes from the one outlined there, but a full assessment of a mass detonation is difficult because of the problem of understanding the condition of the munitions—a point to which I have already alluded. He also asked about the 1999 risk assessment. I have been advised that there is a hard copy of it in the Libraries of both Houses.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the basis for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s current assessment of risk. The hard evidence that supports this comes from the regular surveys that we carry out and the advice over many years that the cargo is likely to be stable if left undisturbed. I stress that we always take the most cautious approach to our assessments.

A further part of our ongoing work to mitigate the risk that the SSRichard Montgomery” poses is ensuring that regular surveys are undertaken to understand the condition of the wreck and its surrounding environment. My noble friend Lord Patten stressed the importance of the use of risk-assessment data—I do not know whether it is big data but it is certainly data—in our work. The surveys are commissioned by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and are undertaken by commercial offshore survey contractors.

The noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Addington, asked about the environmental monitoring around the wreck. No specific environmental issue prompted the action; it was a pre-emptive move as part of our ongoing commitment to manage the wreck.

In response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the monitoring will also study what effect the wreck may or may not be having on its immediate environment—for example, through measurement of the water quality around the wreck. This monitoring is ongoing and will be completed later this year.

As my noble friend Lord Patten mentioned, on 3 June this year we published, on GOV.UK, the most recent surveys online for 2016 and 2017. This underlines our ongoing commitment to transparency in our monitoring of the wreck. As noble Lords have noted, these surveys confirm that the wreck of the SS “Richard Montgomery” remains stable but its gradual degradation continues. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, pointed out, technology is improving all the time, allowing us to understand the situation better.