Thursday, June 14, 2007


It's official: SS Alert shipwreck now protected from scuba looters


June 14, 2007

VICTORIA, Australia -- The SS Alert, the ill-fated cargo ship that met its demise more than 100 years ago off the Victorian coast, will be preserved and protected for evermore in its watery grave.

Yesterday, news reports revealed that after nearly two years of painstaking work combing the ocean floor, a group of volunteer marine archaeologists had found the Alert, sitting beneath 80 metres of water in Bass Strait off Cape Schanck.

Now, the Victorian Government has moved to preserve the Alert permanently, affording it the highest level of heritage protection.

Disturbing, damaging or removing items from historic shipwrecks, such as the Alert, can attract a prison sentence or fines of up to $10,000 for a person, and $50,000 for a company.

Planning Minister Justin Madden said the Alert was an important part of Victoria's extensive sea history.

"I would like to congratulate the Southern Ocean Exploration team, a committed group of volunteers, for this marvellous discovery, which is yet another wonderful contribution to our maritime heritage," he said.

The SS Alert sank the night of December 28, 1893, after being caught in a ferocious storm. The ship was ill-equipped for the open water (it had been built for placid Scottish lochs) and sank without a trace.

Fifteen people went down with the ship, and only the Alert's cook, Robert Ponting, survived, by clinging to a piece of cabin door for more than 16 hours.

Until this month, the exact location of the SS Alert was not known, until Southern Ocean Exploration, led by Mark Ryan, discovered it, still largely intact.

The exact location of the wreck has been passed on to Heritage Victoria, but it will not be released publicly. At 80 metres below the surface, it is too deep for most divers to reach anyway.

The Alert is officially in Commonwealth waters. Planning Minister Justin Madden said Heritage Victoria would write to the Federal Government to recommend it be made off limits to anyone without a heritage permit.


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