The American owner of the wreck of the Lusitania has accused the State of consistently blocking his efforts to solve the century-old mystery of what caused the devastating second explosion that sank the vessel in 18 minutes.
Gregg Bemis said onerous dive licence conditions are hampering his research, and he described the Underwater Archaeological Unit of the Department of Monuments as a “collection of academics who, although well-meaning, are well beyond their depth in this project”.
Writing in a special Lusitania supplement in today’s Irish Examiner to mark the start of a week of commemorative events tonight ahead of the May 7 centenary, Mr Bemis said their mantra has been that “a wreck of this importance must be protected”.
“But they fail to state from what it is to be protected,” he said. “They certainly are not protecting it from the turbulent and corrosive environment in which it lies. They aren’t protecting it from the fishermen’s nets which become entangled and tear apart the remains, as prohibited by law.
“Yes, it is protected from its owner’s efforts at research and recovery, which in most cases are the very efforts which this department should be supporting and undertaking.”
Mr Bemis has now pleaded with the Government to end “20 years of negativity” towards his research and to work with him to help solve Lusitania’s last mystery.
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht defended its stance and said Mr Bemis was consulted about and agreed with the latest dive licence conditions issued in 2013, and that the conditions attached to the current licence, which runs to the end of the year, are largely the same as earlier licenses.
“The Lusitania is one of the world’s best known shipwrecks and the department’s view is the conditions attached to Mr Bemis’ license are no more onerous than is absolutely necessary to protect a wreck of this global significance,” a department spokesperson said.
He said the department hopes to work with Mr Bemis to help progress his plans for further dives.
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