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Warning to divers over protected wreck sites

By This is Devon  |  Posted: March 23, 2011

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MINISTRY of Defence Police are investigating the possible theft of items from an historic shipwreck off Plymouth.

Officers intercepted two male divers on the edge of the protected wreck site of the British warship the Coronation, off Penlee Point, a few weeks ago.

A number of items seized in the divers' boat were taken for analysis to determine if they had been taken from the wreck.

Officers are now awaiting specialist assessment of the items to determine whether further enquiries will need to be carried out.

It comes as English Heritage has issued a warning that action will be taken against anyone illegally accessing, damaging or removing items from protected historic wrecks.

This warning follows the launch in February of the Alliance to Reduce Crimes Against Heritage (ARCH) with the support of more than 40 organisations.

Inspector Gordon Peters, of the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) Marine Unit, said: "Penlee Point falls within the Dockyard Port of Plymouth area which is patrolled by MDP launches and boats as part of its protection of Royal Navy assets.

"We were pleased to assist in this case after receiving a request from the Queen's Harbour Master to investigate possible unauthorised activity at the wreck of the Coronation."

Chief Inspector Mark Harrison, of Kent Police, who is policing adviser for English Heritage, said: "The incident [at the Coronation wreck site] has highlighted the need for all agencies to work together to protect these sites.

"Divers and other sea users are reminded that the sites are being monitored and action will be taken where there is an infringement of the law.

"People in this country have a deep affection for their heritage and English Heritage has a duty to protect it.

"There is increasing evidence that suggests that the threat from heritage crimes is growing and we need to do something about it."

Armed vessels from the MDP's Devonport Marine Unit patrol a restricted 112 square mile area of water adjacent to the naval base.

Alison James, maritime archaeologist for English Heritage, added: "There are 46 wreck sites in England protected by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Access to them is controlled through a licensing system."

The Coronation was a 90-gun warship of the English Royal Navy which was launched in 1685.

She took part in the Battle of Beachy Head, a naval conflict that was fought off the Sussex Coast on 10 July, 1690, during the Nine Years' War.

The battle was to be one of the greatest French naval victories over their English and Dutch opponents.

The Coronation was lost on September 3, 1691 in a gale off Penlee Point.

The exact reasons for her loss are unclear. The wreck was discovered in 1967.

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    Paul, Peverel  |  March 23 2011, 8:25AM

    Come on Herald, call it what it is.... Grave Robbing.