"The past century of commerce and warfare has left a legacy of thousands of sunken vessels along the U.S. coast. The public has long been fascinated by shipwrecks because of their significance to history and culture. However, there is growing concern about their potential environmental impacts from eventual release of their cargo and fuel. Dozens of stories have been written about the problems associated with leaking World War II-era ships lost in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Although a few, such as the 'Mississinewa' and the 'Jacob Luckenbach', are well-publicized oil pollution threats, most wrecks, unless they pose an immediate pollution threat or impede navigation, are left alone and are largely forgotten until they begin to leak, often becoming the source of 'mystery spills' until the source is identified. Recent response efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere have led to interest from both government and the spill response and salvage industries to systematically identify, incorporate in regional and area contingency plans, investigate, and potentially offload the oil remaining onboard wrecks before they begin to leak. The Marine Technology Society published a special issue focused on underwater pollution threats [...], and the 2005 International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC) commissioned an issue paper […] that furthered the discussion. Much of the interest is because proactive removal of oil contained within a wreck can be planned and managed more cost-effectively than an emergency spill response. Equally important, proactive removal of the oil would avoid environmental and socio-economic consequences associated with a discharge from the vessel. The scope and scale of the issue as previously framed by the IOSC and others were overwhelming for state and federal response personnel without narrowing of focus to vessels that are of highest risk."
National Marine Sanctuaries: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/