The Coimbra was carrying more than 2 million gallons (7.6 million liters) of oil when it was torpedoed in January 1942, killing 36 officers and crew members. It now lies 180 feet (about 55 meters) beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) off Long Island's south shore.
The Coast Guard and the state Department of Environmental Conservation are working with a private company, Resolve Marine, to assess and reduce any pollution threats posed by the leak. German U-boats sank 148 petroleum tankers and countless other ships near the U.S. Gulf and East coasts.
Some came harrowingly close to heavily populated areas. The one that torpedoed the Coimbra had ventured just hours earlier along the New York City shoreline, bobbing on the surface near Rockaway Beach, Queens, and in view of Coney Island's Parachute Jump and Wonder Wheel amusement rides, according to "New York at War," a book by Steven H. Jaffe.
As the torpedo slammed into the Coimbra's hull, it "sent a blinding sheet of fire boiling up into the night sky," Jaffe wrote. The government censored information on such attacks and counterattacks, asking that any witnesses keep quiet as a matter of national security.
But "with the Coimbra's oil and life preservers washing up on Long Island beaches, and survivors reaching shore, a news blackout was impossible," wrote Jaffe.