Tuesday, November 30, 2004


New law expected to protect South Carolina warship wrecks


Herald Tribune
The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The waters along the South Carolina coast are littered with the wrecks of warships and now a new federal law will help better protect them.

Under the law, federal agents can seize a treasure hunter's boat and fine him $100,000 a day for trying to loot such wrecks, which by law belong to the federal government. The law could allow criminal charges to be brought as well.

A recent survey by the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology identified 46 wrecks in South Carolina waters, some accessible to small boats.

In Charleston Harbor, the location of the Confederate ships Chicora and Palmetto State as well as the Union ironclad Patapsco are commonly known.The law applies to military wrecks, but not to commercial vessels.

It was needed because new technology has made it easier to locate wrecks, said Bob Neyland, the head of underwater archaeology at the Naval Historical Center and the coordinator for the Hunley project.

"This will go a long way to protecting war graves; and it will go a long way toward protecting archaeological sites," he said.The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley was raised off the coast in 2000 and is now in a conservation lab in North Charleston.

The act covers thousands of wrecks in waters worldwide and dozens of Civil War-era ships alone the South Carolina coast.State Archaeologist Jonathan Leader said the law targets those who would loot wrecks.

"Obviously they are not just going after people who stumble upon these wrecks," Leader said. "The real issue is people out for gain or profit off these wrecks. I have no sympathy for those people and am glad this is being done.

"James Hunter, a Naval Historical Center archaeologist working at the Hunley lab, said the law protects vessels in many places.

A few years ago, a Maine man found the remains of a Revolutionary-era naval vessel in the Penobscot River near Bangor. He told officials about the wreck and archaeologists from the center have conducted three surveys.

But almost anyone can reach the vessel.

"It's so close to shore you could hit it with a rock," Hunter said. "This will serve as protective legislation for these wrecks.

"Neyland said the government wants to first protect the sanctity of war graves and then learn more about the vessels."This is meant to protect these wrecks for the greatest public benefit," he said.

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