Monday, June 20, 2005


Lusitania owner granted access to secrets ...


The New Mexican
By Anne Constable
June 18, 2005

Photo by Lara Shipley/Santa Fe New Mexican.

An Irish court ruled Friday that Santa Fe venture capitalist and adventurer F. Gregg Bemis can conduct a forensic dive that could solve the mysteries about the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine in 1915.

Bemis called the decision a "victory for the little guy against the state.

"Ireland's Duchas, or heritage office, which is charged with protecting the country's cultural assets, claimed the wreck is an archaeological site and has denied Bemis' requests to make the forensic dive. The British passenger ship lies 300 feet below the surface in Irish territorial waters approximately 12 miles off the coast of County Cork.

In a 31-page opinion, Justice Dan Herbert of the High Court in Dublin told the government that Bemis should be allowed to explore the Lusitania.

Bemis said an Irish friend, who was in court for the verdict, told him the judge said: "Given the amount of lives that were lost, it would be in the state's interest to find out what did happen.

"Bemis has been waiting for this verdict since November 2003 when the case was presented to the High Court.

Sole owner of the wreck since 1982, Bemis has sponsored many dives to the sunken ship. Last July, he made a 62-minute decompression dive to the wreck, describing it as "gorgeous." And in 1993, he had a look at the ship from a minisub during an expedition financed by the National Geographic Society.

But no one has had a close look inside.

The Lusitania sank 18 minutes after a torpedo pierced its starboard side, killing more than 1,200 people, including 128 Americans and 94 children.

A forensic examination of the 90-year-old wreck might solve the mystery of a second explosion heard by survivors and determine whether the Lusitania was carrying high explosives and not just the munitions and chemicals listed on its manifest.

The divers will be trying to find out where the torpedo entered the ship and what caused the second explosion. "If it was high explosive", that finding would be "dynamite," Bemis said.

Bemis said Friday that he hopes the forensic dive will take place a year from now. He said he would begin immediately to line up the money, equipment and personnel for the expedition. He estimates the cost of the dive at abut $2 million and the cost of a documentary film on the project at another $1 million.

Finding the specialized divers will be difficult because many work in oil patches around the world and are hired years in advance.

To improve visibility and make the dive safer, Bemis said, a cleansing pump will be used to evacuate the silt from the inside of the ship.

The hard-hat divers will be on umbilical cords that will provide them with gas, hot water, air and communications as they explore the interior. That way, "they can do the work without the hazards of getting lost," Bemis said.

It would be too dangerous to send independent scuba divers to the interior, he added, because they might dislodge stuff as they exhale gas.

Bemis, who has two applications pending for the dive, said he will be on the dive ship rather than in the water or behind the camera.

"I'll be there, you bet," he said. But his role will not be a starring one. "This is not a Titanic romance film," Bemis said.


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