It’s as if the Lusitania is coming home. That’s how diver and Lusitania expert Eoin McGarry described the move by his friend, US business-man Gregg Bemis, yesterday to gift the wreck and its artefacts to a local heritage group which is planning to develop a Lusitania museum on the Cork coast.
Mr McGarry, who has dived the wreck some 18km off the Old Head of Kinsale more than anyone else in the world, revealed that Mr Bemis had two other options for the wreck.
“There were two alternatives discussed previously in the United States, and I’m glad they didn’t come to fruition,” he said. “It’s like as if the Lusitania is coming home.”
Mr Bemis has spent more than half a century and up to $1m of his own personal fortune trying to solve the mystery of the sinking of the Lusitania — a wreck he acquired in the 1960s.
But as he approaches his 91st birthday later this month, he said now is the right time to pass it on to Old Head Signal Tower and Lusitania Museum Heritage Company.
The not-for-profit group run by volunteers restored the landmark Old Head signal tower as a Lusitania visitor attraction in 2015, and opened the adjoining Lusitania memorial garden in 2017.
The 32,000-tonne wreck, which is just over 240m long, has been lying in 93m of water 18km off the Old Head since she was sunk by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, with the loss of 1,201 lives — including three unnamed German stowaways.
Mystery has always surrounded the cause of a massive second explosion amid rumours the passenger ship was carrying high explosives for use in the First World War.
Mr Bemis said that, as well as seeing the ship’s artefacts go on display in a “living museum” where people can fully appreciate the story of Lusitania, he hopes his decision will support ongoing dives on the wreck to resolve the question of what caused the mysterious second explosion.
“My own opinion is that it was caused by the cargo of high explosives, among other things, which should never have been on an ocean liner, a passenger liner,” he said.
“I believe in the integrity of history and in order for us to have integrity we have to find out what the cause was.”
Jerome Lordan, a member of the heritage company, said all their future decisions in relation to this “wonderful and generous gift” will be borne with what Mr Bemis would have had in mind. A dive expedition is planned on the wreck this summer.