The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) announced that two divers from Kent have pleaded guilty to not declaring valuable items from shipwrecks off the U.K. coast.
David Knight and Edward Huzzey, both from Sandgate, admitted to 19 offences between them, contrary to section 236 and section 237 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
Items were taken from shipwrecks off the Kent coast, with the first known objects removed in 2001. The shipwrecks targeted included German submarines from World War I and an unknown 200 year old wreck carrying English East India Company cargo.
The items included eight bronze cannons, three propellers from German submarines, lead and tin ingots, along with various other artifacts. It’s thought the combined value of the items is worth more than £250,000.
MCA said it is aware from diary entries that Knight and Huzzey used explosives and sophisticated cutting equipment to free wreck material.
Sentencing has been scheduled for July 2, 2014.
Alison Kentuck, the MCA’s Receiver of Wreck, said, “Our message is clear: all wreck material found within or brought within UK territorial waters must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck. It is not a case of ‘finders keepers’.”
Kentuck continued, “Finders of wreck have 28 days to declare their finds to the Receiver. This case highlights the importance of doing that and demonstrates what could happen to you if you don’t. By reporting wreck material you are giving the rightful owner the opportunity to have their property returned and you may be adding important information to the historic record. Legitimate finders are likely to be entitled to a salvage award, but those who don't declare items are breaking the law and could find themselves facing hefty fines.”
English Heritage has provided advice on handling cultural objects, assessed the importance of objects seized as evidence and provided expert advice in relation to uncontrolled salvage on submerged archaeological remains.
Mark Harrison, English Heritage's National Policing and Crime Adviser, said, "We recognize that the majority of divers enjoy the historic marine environment and comply with the laws and regulations relating to wrecks and salvage. This case sends out a clear message that the small criminal minority will be identified and brought to justice."
Mark Dunkley, English Heritage's Maritime Designation Adviser, said, "The investigation has highlighted the need to tackle heritage crime, wherever it occurs, so that the remains of our past remain part of our future."
The MCA also appealed to the public regarding the whereabouts of six bronze cannons that remain outstanding. The cannons were constructed in 1807 by W & G and have the English East India Company logo (VEIC) on them.
The MCA asked for anyone who knows the location of any of the cannons to contact the Receiver of Wreck on 02380 329 474.