Heritage Minister Ed Vaizey has told Parliament that independent monitoring of the controversial salvage of HMS Victory 1744 may be made a condition of any Marine Management Organisation Licence, if the MMO considers it appropriate. The comment came in a written Parliamentary answer in response to a question by Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones which asked “what arrangements his Department is making for direct, on board ship monitoring of the work on the HMS Victory1744 wreck site by independent archaeologists.”
After noting that fieldwork would be supervised by the Scientific Committee of the Maritime Heritage Foundation chaired by Dr Margaret Rule, Mr Vaizey said “In addition, any licences that may be granted to the MHF by the Marine Management Organisation for works relating to the wreck of HMS Victory 1744 may include a condition requiring monitoring of the activities by an independent archaeologist if that is considered appropriate.
Mr Vaizey’s comment is sure to be noticed by the mainstream maritime archaeology community which is already concerned that the proposed salvage of “at risk” items from HMS Victory 1744 will be used as a Trojan Horse to leverage a wider excavation of the HMS Victory site. Particularly as the sea bed across the site is likely to be destabilised and the integrity of the site threatened by the removal of the minimum of 41 cannon which Odyssey have identified as being located on the site and at risk from trawling and illicit salvage.
Therefore it is highly likely that as soon as the Maritime Heritage Foundation/Odyssey apply for a Marine Management Organisation Licence, which is a condition of further work on the HMS Victory 1744 site, maritime archaeology and heritage bodies will be pushing for the inclusion of an independent expert archaeologist to monitor and report on all operations on the HMS Victory wreck site. They will point to the precedent of the abortive HMS Sussex project where Odyssey also operated with an MOD monitor on board their vessel and to the fact that Odyssey and the Maritime Heritage Foundation have been investigated for exceeding their brief from the Ministry of Defence by conducting unauthorised works on the HMS Victory site without an MMO licence.