Thursday, March 17, 2005


Michigan dive group under investigation for illegal Edmund Fitzgerald dive


March 17, 2005

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ontario (17 Mar 2005) -- The Ontario Ministry of Culture is reviewing allegations an illegal dive was made to the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior.

The Whitefish Point Preservation Society of Paradise, Mich., alleges that the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, led by Thomas Farnquist, executive director of Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, conducted an illegal dive to the legendary shipwreck nearly three years ago.

"I cannot confirm, nor deny, whether there was an unauthorized dive to the Edmund Fitzgerald," said Michael Johnson, manager of the ministry's Heritage Operations Unit.

"I am not ready to pass judgment on material that has been forwarded to us until further review."

If it is felt an official investigation is required, that would be done by another branch of the provincial government because the Ministry of Culture does not have the investigative authority to handle such work, Johnson said.

The Preservation Society alleges that the Historical Society was not issued an archaeological license or dive permit as required under the Ontario Heritage Act for a dive conducted in the summer of 2002.

But Farnquist, who has led three expeditions to the Fitzgerald, which lies in Ontario waters, denies a dive even took place.

"We dragged side-scan sonar past the wreckage from a distance of about 800 feet... We did not need a license. It isn't categorized as a dive."

Images captured during the sonar "sweep" were incorporated into an episode of the History Channel's Deep Sea Detectives, which dealt with the wreck of the Fitzgerald, broadcast nearly a year later.

That upsets Bridget Nodurft, a spokeswoman for the Preservation Society.

"The site was declared off-limits following the recovery of the ship's bell in 1995 and just a few years later (in 2003) they are announcing to the world through the History Channel that they have returned," she said.

The resting spot of the Fitzgerald, whose 29-member crew was lost when it sank in a violent storm on Nov. 10, 1975, is considered a heritage and cemetery burial site by the Ministry of Culture -- although it has not been officially designated as such.

The wreckage of the Fitzgerald, an American-owned 728-feet iron ore carrier, lies in 574 feet of water about 17 miles northwest of Whitefish Point.

Under the Ontario Heritage Act, an archaeological underwater license is required to conduct a general survey and collect data from a registered heritage site.

No fee is attached to the one-year license, but at the end of each scuba diving season a report must be submitted that details the work completed.

The National Geographic Society and the Canadian Navy's dive research vessel, HMCS Cormorant, partnered in the last official dive to the Fitzgerald, in the summer of 1995.

A manned submersible was used to recover the ship's bell, which became the centerpiece of the maritime museum, and replaced it with a replica carrying the engraved names of its crew members.


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