Sunday, December 11, 2005

 

State settles lawsuit over fate of SS Aleutian

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Anchorage Daily News
December 05, 2005


SS Aleutian in Alaska.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The state announced Monday it has settled a lawsuit with Shoreline Adventures over the fate of the SS Aleutian, a steamship that delivered goods and people to canneries and sank on May 26, 1929, after hitting a rock in Uyak Bay near Kodiak.

"I commend the efforts of both parties to resolve this lawsuit in a responsible manner that benefits the interests of Shoreline and the state," Attorney General David Marquez said in a prepared statement.

"This settlement will allow Shoreline to conduct dives to this historical shipwreck while protecting the vessel and its contents as an archaeological site and ensuring that the environment will be protected and preserved," he said.

Divers with Shoreline Adventures LLC found the wreck in August 2002. The company claimed the Aleutian was of little historic value but would be a great draw for a high-end tourist diving enterprise.

The state sought to get title to the wreck under a 1987 law that grants ownership to states of abandoned shipwrecks imbedded in submerged state lands.

A federal magistrate ruled in June 2004 that Alaska waited too long to express interest in the remains. The state was appealing the decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Shoreline wants to charge divers about $4,000 to explore the wreck and bring up artifacts from the ship. The artifacts, mostly everyday dishes, furnishings, fixtures and bits of the boat itself, would be documented and the guest divers would then be allowed to take some of them home.

Under terms of the agreement, Shoreline must submit a plan of recovery for any artifacts to the state Office of History and Archaeology. That office will issue an archaeological field permit to Shoreline for a recovery operation after the plan is approved.

Shoreline also is required to prepare an assessment of environmental risk of an oil release emanating from the S-S Aleutian before conducting any recovery expedition.

"Both the state of Alaska and my client have worked diligently to resolve our competing interests to share this remarkable find with the world," the company's attorney, Peter Hess, said in the state's prepared release.

"I believe this settlement protects an important aspect of Alaska's past and allows my client to serve as a window to share that past with the rest of the world," he said.

The agreement dismisses the current appeal in the Ninth Circuit and allows the U.S. District Court to maintain jurisdiction over the shipwreck to monitor the terms of this settlement.

The SS Aleutian was 375 feet long and 50 feet wide, built in Philadelphia in 1898. A two-masted steamer, it was chugging westward from Seward on a Sunday morning, searching in misty light for a floating cannery, when it struck a submerged rock about a mile south of Amook Island, tearing such a large hole in its hull that it sank in seven minutes, according to newspaper accounts at the time.

Only one of the 116 people aboard died, apparently because he went back to his quarters to retrieve a keepsake. The captain and his chief officer later returned to the area and searched for the wreck but could find only an oil slick.


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