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Worse than an Oil Spill Presents
Historic Portsmouth #315

The 428-foot Empire Knight was en route from New Brunswick to New York when it hit a ledge off the Maine coast during a storm on February 11, 1944. The freighter broke into two pieces killing 24 sailors. The stern portion settled into 260 feet of water off Boon Island. (Details and pix below)

The British "liberty" ship was carrying a load of copper valued at a million dollars. It also carried 221 glass-lined vials of mercury each weighing about 75 pounds, plus unexploded ordinace from World War II. In the summer of 1991, Maine officials and fishermen worried as salvage companies squabbled over how to safely remove the booty. The leaking vials containing 1,230 pounds of mercury were recovered, plus nearly 2,200 pounds of mercury-contaminated debris. An estimated 16,000 pounds of mercury remains unaccounted for and is believed to be spread throughout the cargo hold. Since 1996 the U. S. Coast Guard has officially declared a Permanent Safety Zone around this wreck site banning dredging, diving, salvaging, anchoring and fishing in this area. Environmentalists agree that the impact of the spill is not serious unless the site is disturbed and the mercury disbursed into the sea. This photo of the bow section was taken by Tom O’Keefe who was stationed on Appledore Island at the time. (Courtesy Portsmouth Athenaeum)

Bow of the Empire Knight in 1944 / Portsmouth Athenaeum on




(c) Portsmouth Athenaeum on



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Sunday, February 25, 2018 
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