At long last maybe the looting will stop...

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Posted by dwill on March 15, 2005 at 17:04:10:

Frank you better read this...

From today's globe -- includes quotes from Sea Rovers' Dave Morton

US sues shipwreck divers in bid to recover artifacts

By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff | March 12, 2005

The federal government took a group of divers to court yesterday and demanded the return of artifacts recovered from a deadly 1934 shipwreck 50 miles south of Nantucket.

The US Justice Department had filed a civil suit alleging that divers belonging to a group called the Boston Sea Rovers salvaged items last year from the Lightship Nantucket (Vessel 117), even though the Coast Guard had warned them in 1999 not to disrupt the underwater gravesite.

The vessel, which belonged to the US Lighthouse Service and flashed a beacon to warn ships that they were approaching Nantucket Shoals, was rammed in heavy fog on May 15, 1934, by the British White Star luxury liner SS Olympic, the sister ship to the Titanic. Four sailors went down with the ship, and their remains were never recovered. Three people on the Olympic died.

During a court hearing yesterday, the Boston Sea Rovers agreed to stop working at the site and to turn over all the artifacts by March 25 to the court, which will hold them until the case is resolved.

But one of the Boston Sea Rovers named in the suit, Eric Takakjian, said last night that the divers had voluntarily turned over most of the artifacts to the US Coast Guard and were planning to give them the rest.

''Our intention is to give them everything and resolve the matter, and we seek nothing in return," said Takakjian, who captains a research vessel called the Quest.

In court papers, a Justice Department maritime lawyer, Matthew Glomb, contended that the divers' ''personal ambitions led them to run roughshod over the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act."

The government contended in the suit that Takakjian had notified the Coast Guard in March 1999 that he had located the wreck and wanted permission to salvage items. According to the suit, the Coast Guard sent Takakjian a letter three months later denying his request, saying the wreck was the property of the federal government and a gravesite.

The suit says that in September, the founder of the US Coast Guard Lightship Sailors Association alerted the Coast Guard that the Sea Rovers had issued a news release announcing that they had conducted a series of dives and salvaged the Lightship Nantucket's bell, helm, engine order telegraph, binnacle, signal light, and several portholes, and they planned to put them on display.

David Morton, one of the divers and president of Boston Sea Rovers, asserted yesterday that the government is trying to portray them as ''grave robbers and thieves" when they are part of a nonprofit group that spent money to salvage and preserve part of the shipwreck with the intent of displaying it in a museum.

''We were led to believe that the Coast Guard didn't want to pursue it because they didn't have the funding to take care of preservation," said Morton. ts/

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