Shipwreck damage lands divers in court

A MARITIME historian’s efforts to identify a 17th century wreck which hebelieved to be a historic slave ship led to his appearance in court yesterday.

Paddy O’Sullivan was one of three men charged at Cork Circuit Criminal Court over activities around the wreckage in Dunworley Bay near Bandon.

The 61-year-old from South Main Street, Bandon; Ray White, aged 63, from Kilmore, Ballinspittle, Co Cork; and 59-year-old Ron Klaus each pleaded guilty to tampering with or damaging or removing part of the wreck on a date unknown between 1999 and 2003.

O’Sullivan told Judge Patrick Moran he had written a definitive book on the Lusitania and wanted to write a second one.

The Amity is one of five 17th century wrecks believed to be lying on the seabed in the bay and would have been the oldest slave trade ship discovered in the world if it had been found.

“I was also looking for glass beads, which were very popular in use as trading for slaves. I felt that if we could just get one bead, that would be proof,” said O’Sullivan, an electricalengineer. He admitted he had removed what he thought was a shackle from the 96-foot wreck, which might have proved it was a slave ship, but found it was some kind of a spike when he brought it home.

Although he contested evidence that he and his co-accused had dived illegally at the wreck for a year after discovering it before notifying the State in July 2003, O’Sullivan accepted that he was wrong to tamper with the wreck.

Judge Moran heard from Detective Sergeant George Kyne that the NationalBureau of Criminal Investigation was called in by the State underwater archaeological unit of the Department of the Environment.

Connie Kelleher, an archaeologist with the unit, said they became frustrated when O’Sullivan would not produce the spike, which they had seen in photographs he showed them from the wreck in September 2003. She showed the judge photographs she took which show damage to the timbers of the hull, which had been exposed by high-pressure water-jetting to blow silt off the wreck.

“From the surveys we have done, my research suggests it’s a Dutch vessel. There are five wrecks it could be, possibly a pirate vessel associated with the 1631 raid on Baltimore, an African gold trader, or a Williamite ship wrecked in Dunworley from which coins have been found over the years, or the Amity,” Ms Kelleher said. However, she expressed doubt that it is the Amity as previous records suggest the vessel carried 10 cannons, unlike the wreck found by O’Sullivan and his friends.

The men have been diving together since the early 1980s. They each told the court they were not aware they were doing anythingillegal and apologised.

Judge Moran applied the Probation Act in relation to all three, as he accepted that they were all interested in the national heritage and investigated the wreck as best they thought they could.

“There has been criticism of the practice and the method by which you went about it. But I suppose you are experienced divers and have been doing this for many years and find it hard to change your habits,” the judge said.

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