THE masts of a shipwreck carrying more than 1,000 tonnes of explosives could be reduced to improve the safety.

Plans are being drawn up for potential safety work onboard the SS Richard Montgomery, which ran aground near Southend in 1944.

The American Liberty ship has rested on a sandbank in the Thames Estuary ever since, with 1,400 tonnes of explosives on board – monitored 24 hours a day and protected by a 500m exclusion zone.

Now, Government officials have identified that the height of the famous masts may have to be reduced because they “may be placing undue strain on the rest of the vessel structure”.

In a letter from Kelly Tolhurst, minister for aviation, maritime and security, she said: “We have decided to explore the possibility of reducing the height of the masts.

“This forms part of our ongoing strategy to ensure risks posed by the vessel are suitably managed.”

However, historian Robert Hallmann, from Hadleigh, believes there could be a big risk in touching the ship at all.

He said: “You’re not supposed to move anything or touch anything in case it is unstable.

“Someone tried to climb on it once, and they were taken off.

“It’s just too dangerous.

“It it explodes it could blow the windows out in Southend.

“This is an operation of the military; someone needs to assess how dangerous the ship still is.

“If they can still explode then they need to leave it alone.”

He added: “I would have thought the best thing to do would be to leave it alone.

“It should have been done years ago, but now everything is unstable and rusted.

“I’m no expert in ammunition, it’s just common sense.

“The final say has got to be from the military.”

The masts of SS Richard Montgomery have become a tourist attraction in the past few years, with cruises being arranged to go out near the wreck to catch a glimpse of them.

The rusting masts can be spotted using binoculars from Southend seafront.

James Duddridge, MP for Rochford and Southend East, said: “I know this development will be of great interest to residents in our town, and I look forward to hearing more about the plans for SS Richard Montgomery once the procurement process is complete.”