Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Shipwreck squabble piques France's interest


The Grand Rapids Press
By Ed White
August 21, 2005

GRAND RAPIDS -- While the state and a salvage group clash over a possible shipwreck in northern Lake Michigan, France is very interested in sending a team to determine if it is the Griffin, a 326-year-old vessel linked to a famous explorer.

The disclosure by a U.S. State Department official was filed in federal court in Grand Rapids as part of a lawsuit over access to the site.

"The French Ministry of Culture is prepared to send a team of three or four experts for eight to 10 days to assist with identification, although the issue of who pays ... remains a question to be resolved," wrote Robert Blumberg of the State Department's Office of Oceans Affairs.

Great Lakes Exploration Group believes it may have found the Griffin between Escanaba and the St. Martin Islands, near Wisconsin. Because of fears of looting, a precise spot in the lake has not been disclosed.

In May, Great Lakes Exploration was ordered to share more details so state experts could check the site. Since then, however, both sides have been squabbling over how much to disclose.
Get moving, a judge said Friday.

The state "must be given the precise location. ... Given the rapidly approaching seasonal change and the unpredictability of northern Michigan weather, the parties must move with expedited speed in order to accomplish this investigation," U.S. Chief District Judge Robert Holmes Bell said.

The state, which typically has control over abandoned ships at the bottom of the Great Lakes, has speculated a piece of wood is "barn timber."

But if it is the Griffin, and France can prove the ship was sailing under the authority of King Louis XIV in 1679, the French could have rights to the wreck.

Blumberg's e-mail expressing France's interest was filed by Great Lakes Exploration. There also is a memo from the French government describing the Griffin's history.

Robert de La Salle's trips "were not merely a personal initiative of an intrinsically private nature but required a king's decree," the memo states.

The judge, however, said the documents are not relevant at this stage of the case.

La Salle's other ship, La Belle, was discovered off the Texas coast in the mid-1990s and salvaged under an agreement between Texas and France.


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