A heroic image of HMS Queen Mary in action published in the Illustrated War Record of 1917
[Public Domain: Authors collection from a publication more than seventy years old]
A PipeLine Special Investigation
To mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland [known in Germany as the Battle of Skaggerak] which took place on 31 May/1 June 1916, thePipeLine is publishing the results of an investigation by a group of Maritime Archaeologists into allegations that a Dutch based salvage company, allegedly with the participation of at least one UK national, have been involved in the illicit, systematic looting for profit of the wreck of the battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary, lost during the battle along with 1266 of her crew. The largest single loss of life on any British ship during the battle.
Almost as disturbing as the revelation of the extent of the looting of the wreck of Queen Mary is the news that the UK Ministry of Defence has known about the desecration of what many people will see as a war grave, since at least early 2011 and in the Spring of 2015 was provided with proof of the illicit salvage, including photographic evidence of the alleged perpetrators in action on the wreck site, some of which is reproduced here in the public interest, but the Ministry has refused to take any positive action to protect the site, or investigate the case seriously, let alone pursue those responsible in the Courts.
Andy Brockman takes up the story
At approximately 16.26 on 31 May 1916 HMS Queen Mary, a crack battlecruiser belonging to Battlecruiser Force of British Grand Fleet was exchanging broadsides with the battlecruisers Seydlitz and Derflinger of I Scouting Group of the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet.
Derflinger’s Gunnery Officer, Korvettenkapitän Georg Von Hase, described what happened next.
“…a vivid red flame shot up from her forepart. Then came an explosion forward, followed by a much heavier explosion amidships. Black debris flew into the air and immediately afterward the whole ship blew up with a terrific explosion. A gigantic cloud of smoke rose, the masts collapsed inwards, the smoke cloud hid everything and rose higher and higher. Finally nothing but a thick, black cloud of smoke remained where the ship had been. At its base the cloud covered only a small area, but it widened toward the summit and looked like a monstrous pine tree.”
The supersonic shock waves from the explosions passing through the ship will have killed anyone in the interior compartments instantly. Yet astonishingly, given the violence of her end, nineteen of Queen Mary’s crew survived. However, within minutes the ship herself and the remaining 1266 of her crew were lying on the bed of the North Sea where they remain to this day.
And there the lost crewmen of HMS Queen Mary should be able to lie in peace. Although there is no such thing as a Maritime War Grave in International Law, the remains of Queen Mary and all the other Jutland wrecks, British and German, should be protected from interference by the legal concept of Sovereign Immunity [SI]. The concept is enshrined in the International Salvage Convention which governs which vessels can be salvaged and what can and what cannot be recovered from shipwrecks by salvage companies, as Michael Williams, Visiting Research Fellow at Plymouth University Law School, explains;
“The wrecks of Royal Navy vessels, however lost, are ‘State owned vessels’. Under Article 14 of the Brussels Convention on Salvage 1910 (as amended) and Article 4 of the International Salvage Convention 1989; this means that they are immune from salvage unless the ‘Flag State’ (in the case of HMS Queen Mary the United Kingdom) consents to their salvage.”
Mr Williams added;
“The United Kingdom also takes the view that such immunity from salvage is conferred by customary international law. Either way, without such consent, salvage cannot lawfully occur.”
HMS Queen Mary is also protected by a second layer of legislation which applies to British nationals and British controlled vessels, in that she is designated as a “protected place” under the 1986 Protection of Military Remains Act.
However, there have been consistent rumours and anecdotal reports over many years that the Jutland wrecks were being subjected to unauthorised salvage, reports which sometimes even surfaced in publications about the Battle of Jutland.
In 1996 the highly regarded naval historian Andrew Gordon said of the Jutland wrecks in his book “The Rules of the Game”;
“Permission to dive on them [the British Jutland wrecks] is not normally given, and, lying at over fifty meters they are reasonably safe from souvenir hunters [though who’s got Queen Mary’s propellers?].”
Of course, Mr Gordon wrote those words before the wide availability of decommissioned ex trawlers, ripe for conversion into small, but capable, salvage vessels, and modern technical diving, brought the wrecks into much closer proximity to those who might wish to exploit them.
Spool forward to early 2011: a heritage crime seminar was held at Eltham Palace in south east London at which the issue of illicit salvage from the Jutland wrecks was discussed by experts from English Heritage [now Historic England] and representatives of Dutch heritage agencies. This author was present as an independent observer and my notes made at the time suggest that it was mentioned that the company most suspected of undertaking the illicit work was known, but that at that time the reports remained anecdotal and as was later reported to Parliament in 2015, no action seems to have been taken to investigate the allegations in any serious way.
Many maritime archaeologists allege that this apparent lack of concern was in part due to previous policies in the Admiralty, and latterly the Ministry of Defence, which for many years treated the wrecks of lost warships with indifference and, most controversially, from time to time as an opportunity to make the Government some money by issuing salvage licences and contracts to scrap metal dealers.
What has been lacking until now is proof of the rumoured commercial looting without permission or Government contracts, which is hardly surprising. The area of the North Sea where the battle was fought is remote and a modern salvage vessel with the right equipment, a determined crew, and an owner who is willing to take the physical and legal risks involved in recovering material from vessels full of one hundred year old ammunition, can locate lucrative scrap, lift it, and be away to market before anyone in authority could react, even if their activity did attract attention in the first place. In addition, with the location of many wrecks not known precisely until recently, who would say that a salvage vessel, even if it was spotted working, was not simply operating on a legitimate wreck site under the international salvage convention?
However, that lack of evidence changed in the Spring of 2015.
In early 2015 a group made up of UK based maritime archaeologists, working with this website, located a source in the marine salvage industry who was able to supply a set of digital photographs which, the source claimed, showed a vessel belonging to the Dutch based marine salvage company Friendship Offshore BV, based in the northern Dutch port of Terschelling, removing material from the wreck site of HMS Queen Mary in the North Sea.
The source also claimed that a UK national was involved in the salvage on board the salvage vessel. If true, that individual could be liable to prosecution under the “Protection of Military Remains Act” even though the alleged salvage vessel was foreign owned and flagged.
The research team then met and interviewed the source in a café close to County Hall on the South Bank of the Thames, opposite the Palace of Westminster. At the meeting the source answered questions and supplied further information and corroboration to support the initial allegations.
After the meeting the allegations were subjected to the kind of checking which would be applied in any journalistic or police investigation.
This began with an objective assessment of the information contained in the set of photographs, asking whether they supported the story told by our source and identifying key features of the photographs which might aid in the verification process.
That stage of the assessment concluded that;
- The salvage vessel depicted appears to be a beam trawler converted to operate heavy salvage equipment including a mechanical grab.
- There are distinctive features on the foredeck of the vessel such as doors and ladders and the colour of her derricks, which could be checked against images of the same location in vessels which are candidates to be that shown in the images.
- The images appear to show salvage from a steel steam ship from the first half of the twentieth century.
[Fair use in the public interest]
- The images show large cordite cases [A] on the deck of the salvage vessel denoting that this wreck is most likely therefore to be a big gun warship. This immediately narrows the possible origin for this material to the kind of vessel which would retain Sovereign Immunity under International Law unless salvage was specifically licensed by the Flag State.
- It is possible to go further and state that the cordite cases are undoubtedly of the British Clarkson type and are of the size used for 12″ ammunition and above. The caliber of ammunition used only on battleships and battlecruisers. Thus even if the vessel is not HMS Queen Mary it is certain the vessel they were recovered from is British. Given the location in the open sea and other circumstantial evidence, the recovery can only be from one of the three Royal Navy battlecruisers lost at Jutland; HMS Indefatigable, HMS Queen Mary and HMS Invincible. It follows that the salvage depicted was unauthorised interference with a Sovereign Immune Royal Navy wreck.
[Fair use in the public interest]
- Further images show the salvage and housing on the deck of the salvage vessel of what appears to be a large boiler room condenser [B]. This appears to be a British Admiralty type, which was standard engine room plant in a vessel of Queen Mary’s period and type. Indeed video taken on an apparently legal dive and posted on You Tube, shows what seems to be an identical condenser on the seabed at the Queen Mary wreck site.
However, the key piece of evidence identifying the wreck being salvaged as HMS Queen Mary is an image which apparently shows one of the salvage crew holding what appears to be a decorative metal monogram [C].
[Fair use in the public interest]
Comparison of the monogram shown in the photographs taken aboard the salvage vessel [C and E ] with a second photograph of Y 13.5 inch gun turret of HMS Queen Mary probably taken in 1915, and easily available in the public domain [D and F ] shows that this distinctive device is almost certainly from a Tampion [a decorative plug inserted into the muzzle of a gun barrel], which is identical to those shown as being carried aboard HMS Queen Mary and used in her 13.5 inch main armament when she was in port. The ship would have carried at least eight of these items, two for each of her four 13.5 inch gun turrets.
As there was only ever one HMS Queen Mary commissioned into the Royal Navy, the Tampion must have come from the ship lost at Jutland.
[Public Domain via thePipeLine]
[Fair use in the public interest]
[Public Domain via thePipeLine]
With the identity of the wreck which was shown being salvaged confirmed beyond doubt as HMS Queen Mary, the team then turned to verifying that the salvage vessel involved did indeed belong to Friendship Offshore BV, as the source alleged.
According to the company website Friendship Offshore BV own and operate two converted beam trawlers, MV Friendship and MV Good Hope. Both are Panamanian flagged and operate out of the company’s base in the port of Terschelling in the Netherlands. The company advertises that both vessels are equipped with sidescan sonar to enable them to locate objects on the seabed, and that they can undertake recoveries using mechanical grabs with a lifting capacity of thirty five metric tons. The grabs are guided by closed circuit television cameras supported by a flood light array.
The vessels can also deploy magnets claimed to be capable of lifting steel objects of up to thirty metric tons from a depth of up to 200m and a free fall steel chisel, weighing eight metric tons, which can be used for breaking into wrecks.
Finally the team noted that diver’s twin air tanks are also visible in the photographs supplied to the investigation, which suggests that the vessels can also support divers. In this respect the team noted that the UK national the source alleged to have taken part in the recovery is a known to be an experienced wreck diver.
With a view to determining which, if any, of the two vessels, operated by Friendship Offshore, MV Good Hope and MV Friendship was the one shown taking part in the salvage, the team compared images supplied by our source with images of recoveries undertaken by Friendship Offshore BV, taken from the company website. The team concluded the following.
The white painted wheelhouse, buff painted deck house, and buff painted forward A Frame and derricks with a red painted cross beam and red painted lower A frame legs point to the strong likelihood that the vessel shown in the photographs of the salvage is the MV Good Hope, owned and operated by Friendship Offshore BV. The company website shows that the cross beam and lower legs of the forward A frame on the company’s other vessel MV Friendship, was painted blue. There also appear to be structural differences on the foredeck.
Finally the unidentified individual who is photographed holding the Royal Monogram from the Queen Mary Tampion [G] appears to be the same person who was photographed standing in the middle of a recovered propeller on the Friendship Offshore website [H].
[Fair use in the pubic interest]
[Friendship Offshore BV: Fair use in the public interest]
There is one further strand of evidence linking Friendship Offshore BV to the illicit salvage of Jutland wrecks.
The Wreck Museum in Friendship’s base of Terschelling has, as one of its exhibits, a clearly marked locking nut from the starboard inner propeller of the Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable, the first of the three Royal Navy battlecruisers to be lost at Jutland when she blew up and sank at 16.02 with the loss of all but two of her crew of 1019. This in itself is proof of the illicit salvage of material form the wreck. However, once again it is possible to go further.
In his new book about the Jutland wrecks Dr Innes McCartney states that the nut was;
“…liberated from its propeller after it had been landed in Holland.”
This investigation can reveal that sources in the Netherlands have confirmed that the propeller was actually in the possession of Friendship Offshore when the locking nut was removed by staff of the Terschelling Wreck Museum shortly before the propeller was apparently sent to be melted down.
The Museum also displays the compass binnacle from the German light cruiser SMS Rostock which was also sunk at the Battle of Jutland and which the museum website reports was recovered by Friendship Offshore in 2009.
As well as confirming that a third vessel was attacked by the salvors, this time German, the date quoted by the wreck museum gives a time frame for the various salvage efforts. That is from 2009, when the SMS Rostock recovery is claimed to have taken place, to December 2010, when there is evidence that at least one of the recoveries of material from Queen Mary had been completed.
Indeed, sources in the Netherlands have confirmed that Friendship Offshore were believed to have located “all the Jutland wrecks” and supplied other artifacts to museums.
To sum up the case
Three strands of evidence, a human source, photographic images and other material in the possession of thePipeLine confirm the salvage of material from a 20th century big gun warship, shown by the recovery of a decorative Royal monogram to have been HMS Queen Mary, sunk at 16.26 hours on 31 May 1916 during the Battle of Jutland, with the loss of 1266 lives.
The Royal monogram itself is one of a number mounted on decorative Tampions carried on the ship and is thus distinctive, evocative, and very rare. As such it would be prized as a trophy and potentially valuable to a collector of World War One or Royal Navy memorabilia. Given this, it is distinctly possible that it remains in the collection of someone very closely connected to this salvage. If not, it should be traced, as it is likely to be in the hands of a collector and could indicate a trafficking route for illicit marine salvage.
The same photographic evidence and other material in possession of thePipeLine, confirms the allegations made by the human source that the salvage was undertaken by Dutch salvage company Friendship Offshore BV, almost certainly using its salvage vessel MV Good Hope.
This chain of evidence linking Friendship Offshore BV to the illicit salvage of Jutland wrecks is further corroborated by the presence of the locking nut from HMS Indefatigable in the Terschelling Wreck Museum which was obtained from a bronze propeller in the possession of Friendship Offshore BV and additional artefacts from SMS Rostock, also supplied by Friendship Offshore.
SMS Rostock appears to have been subjected to salvage in 2009 and it is possible, even likely, that the visits to Queen Mary and Indefatigable took place at around the same time. thePipeLine has evidence that these particular operations had certainly been completed by December 2010.
thePipeLine cannot confirm currently the additional allegation from our human source that at least one UK national was aboard the Friendship Offshore vessel when the salvage was undertaken. However, if subsequent investigations show this to have been the case that individual could be liable to prosecution in the UK under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.
Why are Royal Navy Wrecks seen as fair game for some salvage companies?
Now that the illicit salvage of at least two Jutland wrecks by one company wishing to profit from the sale of the non-ferrous metals they contain has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, the inevitable question is; how was it that the illicit salvage of the maritime military graves of thousands of Royal Navy mariners came to be seen as a relatively risk free, high return, activity for at least some companies in the marine salvage industry?
Strange, and even distasteful as it might seem to members of the public, Admiralty policy for much of the twentieth century was to allow the salvage of vessels by commercial salvors, even vessels which sank with significant loss of life.
Among the vessels sold or licensed for salvage for their scrap value were HMS Cressy, HMS Hogue and HMS Aboukir , sunk in September 1914 with the loss of 1459 lives and sold for scrap in 1954; the Hospital Ship HMHS Anglia sunk by a mine off Folkestone in November 1915 with the loss of 134 wounded soldiers, crew and nursing staff which was sold to the Folkestone Salvage Company in 1965, and the German submarine UB81, a German maritime military grave sold for scrap as recently as 1975.
Among other vessels lost with major loss of life where salvage was allowed were the dreadnought battleship HMS Vanguard and armoured cruiser HMS Natal both of which blew up at anchor during World War One, while in 1981 the cruiser HMS Edinburgh, sister ship of HMS Belfast, was salvaged for the consignment of gold she was carrying when she was sunk by a U-boat in 1942. Although in that case the Government appears to have chosen to use saturation divers to undertake the recovery, rather than more traditional, and brutal, smash and grab salvage methods seen used on Queen Mary, on account of the sensitivity of veterans and the families of the members of the crew who were lost with the ship.
This sensitivity, which was not previously characteristic of the Navy’s approach to its wrecks, probably has something to do with the fact that, by the mid 1970’s, many outside groups, including the Royal British Legion, were becoming distinctly unhappy at the apparent lack of respect shown for Royal Navy sailors who remain forever at sea by Governments of all political colours. Matters were brought to a head by allegations that HMS Royal Oak, sunk in Scapa Flow in 1939 with the loss of over 800 lives had been subjected to diving for souvenirs and the reported interest of Japanese salvors in the wrecks of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse sunk by the Japanese Air Force in December 1941, fifty miles off the coast of Malaya. The result of this moral pressure was that military vessels lost during World War One and World War Two were included alongside military aircraft in the Protection of Military Remains Act passed in 1986.
The new Act gave Government the ability to designate the wreck sites of warships as “Protected Places” supposedly preventing unauthorised diving and salvage in UK waters and the unauthorised diving and salvage on designated wrecks by UK nationals and UK controlled vessels, if the wreck lay outside of the UK Exclusive Economic Zone as was the case with Prince of Wales and Repulse. This status, coupled with the concept of Sovereign Immunity [SI] discussed earlier, should have been enough to offer legal sanctions in UK and local courts in the event a designated wreck site was violated. All that was required was the will on the part of the Government, and its lawyers, to use the legal tools provided.
However, in spite of the Protection of Military Remains Act coming into force, reports persisted of further illicit recoveries of salvage from Royal Navy wrecks. It is also the case that the Ministry of Defence only got around to designating the known Jutland wrecks in 2006, twenty years after the Protection of Military Remains Act first became available. A delay in delivery to rank alongside that of any of the Ministry’s notoriously inefficient major procurement projects, and one which, cynics might suggest, demonstrated how seriously Ministry of Defence Main Building in Whitehall and Navy Command at Whale Island in Portsmouth actually took the issue.
One reason for the belated designation might lie in the increasing amount of hard evidence from archaeological surveys that the vessels were being attacked by salvors. Useful data on the condition of at least some of the Jutland wrecks is available from as long ago as 1991. However, the leading provider of the fresh forensic evidence is maritime archaeologist and diver Dr Innes McCartney, who had turned his attention from U-boat wrecks to the maritime battlefield of Jutland. Beginning in 2000 Dr McCartney began fieldwork which has now located, dived on, and surveyed, at least twenty two of the warships lost at Jutland, examining forensically the state of the wrecks and assessing what, if anything, they can add to the story of Jutland as it unfolded.
However, as Dr McCartney records in his new book on the Jutland wrecks “Jutland 1916- the Archaeology of a Naval Battlefield” there was a significant by-product to the historical research. The surveys, in particular the latest survey undertaken in 2015 using remotely operated vehicles and state of the art multibeam sonar, revealed for the first time the nature and extent of the attempts to salvage the Jutland wrecks, and it was far greater than previously believed.
Dr McCartney has noted suspected salvage from fifteen of the identified Jutland wrecks, British and German, that is 60% of the total, with boiler room condensers the most likely item to be lifted, closely followed by propellers. These items are made from copper and manganese bronze respectively, both materials which have been fetching premium prices on the international metals market. For example, a thirty ton [30481 kg] condenser full of copper tubing could return over £65k at current trade prices for scrap copper pipe.
With the theft of lucrative non-ferrous metals from the Jutland wrecks now proven by independent survey, the question follows who was undertaking these illicit recoveries?
That question has now been answered, at least so far as the case of the three documented recoveries from HMS Queen Mary, HMS Indefatigable and SMS Rostock are concerned.
Why is the case of HMS Queen Mary important?
The allegation of illicit salvage, which is supported by the evidence from photography, archaeological survey, and witness reports, is also extremely emotive. HMS Queen Mary is the grave and memorial to the 1,266 Royal Navy personnel who were lost in her sinking, the largest single loss of life at Jutland, and as such she is properly designated under the United Kingdom, Protection of Military Remains Act [PMRA].
In addition, from this year, 2016, she will receive additional protection under the UK Government’s policy for maritime archaeology as she falls under the provisions of the Annex to the UNESCO Convention in the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which applies to all wrecks more than 100 years old. This would have the effect of imposing minimum standards on any archaeological research on the wreck and preventing any commercial exploitation at all of artifacts from the wreck site.
Seen through the prism of the UNESCO Convention as Underwater Cultural Heritage [UCH], Queen Mary is also important because she is an example of an extinct type of ship, a battlecruiser, and forensically her remains represent important evidence of the action at Jutland, at one of the most iconic moments in the battle. It was her destruction, following closely on the catastrophic explosion and sinking of HMS Indefatigable, which led Admiral Sir David Beatty to make the defining comment about the Battle of Jutland when he turned to his Flag Captain, Ernle Chatfield, and said;
“There must be something wrong with our bloody ships today.”
As part of the culture of remembrance, and in presenting that culture to the wider public, the monogram, which it is alleged was illicitly taken from the vessel by Friendship Offshore, represents a direct, physical link to the essence of the ship and her crew.
In emotive terms; if the boiler room condenser is a generic part of HMS Queen Mary’s skeleton, the distinctive and individual monogram, illicitly lifted during the same operation, is part of her DNA.
The reaction of the British Government to illicit salvage from the Jutland wrecks
The chain of responsibility for the management of the British Jutland wrecks is clear.
Because they lie outside UK territorial waters and most lie outside the UK Exclusive economic Zone [EEZ], the lead Government departments are the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Bringing up the rear in terms of policy matters is the Department for Culture Media and Sport, which also happens to have taken the lead in announcing the Government’s centenary commemorations of Jutland. All other Government departments and agencies either have an advisory role, as does for example Historic England, or a reactive role. For example the Receiver of Wreck would react by informing the MoD, and MoD Police, if a salvor presented salvaged material, known as “wreck”, in a UK port which the Receiver believed might be from a designated wreck site.
For that reason the information discussed in this article was first passed to the UK Ministry of Defence Police in April 2015 and copied to other Government agencies with an interest in protecting historic wrecks and regulating the salvage of vessels UK waters and UK vessels in international waters or falling under the remit of other jurisdictions.
Shortly afterwards a written question was also placed in Parliament by Mr Kevan Jones MP who asked the Ministry of Defence;
…what steps he is taking to investigate allegations that the wreck of the battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary has been looted by salvors operating illegally.
The question was answered by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, Mark Lancaster MP, who stated;
In March 2011 the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) received an allegation of theft of artefacts from the sunken battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary. After due consideration it was concluded by the MDP that no further action could be taken. Any new information will be considered by the MDP in the normal manner.
This is what is known as a “Whitehall Answer”. That is an answer to the question civil servants want to answer rather than the question the Minister was actually asked.
By the time the Minster answered the question from Mr Jones the Ministry of Defence had been in possession of the photographs of the recovery of the boiler room condenser and Royal monogram from HMS Queen Mary by Friendship Offshore and the name of a UK national alleged to have been aboard the Friendship Offshore salvage vessel, for over a month.
Indeed, the Royal Navy cannot be said to be unaware of the issue and the heritage implications of the illicit salvage. thePipeLine understands that even as Mr Jones was being provided with his Whitehall Answer, the Royal Navy hydrographic survey ship, HMS Echo, was in the Danish sector of the North Sea conducting her own survey of the Jutland wrecks for the Ministry of Defence. As part of the agreement required to obtain permission to operate in another nation’s waters the Royal Navy agreed to abide by certain conditions, including agreeing to abide by Danish heritage law for historic wrecks and to respect military graves.
Widening the question to take account of the international implications of the issue of lost Royal Navy warships outside of UK waters, Mr Jones also submitted a question asking what steps the Ministry of Defence was taking to (a) monitor designated and non-designated military wrecks and (b) facilitate the prosecution of those accused of the illegal salvage of such wrecks.
The question was again answered by Mr Lancaster who stated;
Where we are able to offer legal protection to military wrecks by means of asserting Sovereign Immunity or by designation under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 we will continue to do so. However, given the vast number of Royal Navy wrecks around the world, there are limitations on what can be achieved with regard to protection, but where we have definitive evidence of desecration of these sites, we will take appropriate action.
We are also pursuing the wider education of sea-users as a long term measure. Protection can be delivered through information to and education of those who might wish to disturb the wrecks. As an example of how this can be effective, the Royal Malaysian Navy has foiled an attempt to loot historic wrecks after receiving information of suspicious activity from the Pahang Fishermen’s Association. In that way, through local engagement with the Malaysian authorities and others, we endeavour to protect such military maritime graves now and in the future.
This response echoed an answer given to Mr Robert Yorke, Chair of the independent expert group, the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee [JNAPC] in 2011. When, in 2011, Mr York raised the issue of the alleged illicit salvage of military wrecks by Dutch salvors with Mr Peter MacDonald, the then head of the Third Sector Section, Navy Command, Mr MacDonald wrote:
“We’re working with the Dutch authorities and others with the aim of preventing inappropriate activity on military wrecks”,
He then added;
“We use a combination of international law and domestic legislation (PMRA 86) to protect such wrecks”
However, critics would point out that there has apparently been no attempt to inform or educate Friendship Offshore regarding the offensive and unlawful nature of their activities and certainly no attempt to assert the rights of the UK under Sovereign Immunity. Indeed, some might go so far as to say that, in the light of the failure of the Ministry of Defence to undertake any serious investigation of the proven activities of Friendship Offshore BV on the wreck site of HMS Queen Mary, it would appear that the “appropriate action” sanctioned by the Ministry is, to use that famous piece of Naval slang, “to do Sweet Fanny Adams”.
Indeed, thePipeLine understands from sources in the UK Maritime Archaeology community that at least one Government civil servant , speaking within the last few weeks, admitted privately that there was no desire on the part of the Ministry of Defence to address this issue. This kind of response is usually Whitehall code for “It’s too difficult and too expensive”.
The only exception to this policy of promising action while actually doing nothing appears to be if the Government begins to be subjected to some uncomfortable headlines in the press. After reports in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail that three World War Two wrecks in the Far East, HMS Exeter, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse had been subjected to illicit salvage and the unauthorised removal of artifacts, the Government began to cooperate with the Royal Malaysian Navy very publicly. The Malaysian authorities subsequently arrested a group of Vietnamese salvors who, it was alleged, had attacked Prince of Wales and Repulse. The UK High Commission in Australia also successfully reclaimed artifacts which had been placed on sale in an auction room in Sydney, having been taken by another diver from the wreck of HMS Exeter without permission.
The 2016 Jutland Commemorations
On May 31/1 June 2016, the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Jutland/Skagerrak, there will be commemorative events in at least five countries.
In the UK the dead and missing of Jutland will be remembered at the Naval memorials in Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Chatham, as well as at the Merchant Navy Memorial at Tower Hill and the Grand Fleet’s former base of Scapa Flow in the Orkney’s.
Germany will remember her dead in Wilhelmshaven, home port of the High Seas fleet, and at the Laboe Naval memorial in Kiel.
Both nations will come together over the wrecks of Jutland when ships of the Royal Navy and the Deutsche Marine, now partners in NATO, meet in a symbolic ceremony of reconciliation and wreath laying at the Jutland Bank.
The international aspect of Jutland will also be remembered at events in three nations who were not directly involved in the fighting, but who did bury some of the dead of the battle when their remains washed ashore; Norway, Sweden and Denmark. In Denmark, the nation which is geographically closest to where the battle took place, a new museum and memorial, designed by Danish artist and sculptor Paul Madsen Cederdorff, will be inaugurated at Thyborøn on the North sea coast of Jutland on 1 June.
Japan may even remember Lt Commander Shimomura Chusuke of the Imperial Japanese Navy, who was an observer aboard HMS Queen Mary and did not survive the explosion which sank her.
When these plans for national remembrance were announced Admiral Sir George Zambellas, the then First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, said:
“It is right, a century after Jutland – the largest and last clash between Dreadnoughts, that we join together to remember those lost from both sides.”
While UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale MP commented that he hoped;
“These commemorations will be an opportunity for the country to come together to honour those who lost their lives during the Battle of Jutland. The pivotal role that the Royal Navy played in the war effort cannot be underestimated and we owe a great to debt to those brave souls who gave their lives.”
However, it appears apparent to many that these fine words are actually meaningless when it comes to preventing the desecration of what are the maritime military graves and memorials to over eight thousand five hundred sailors, British and German.
The Admiralty came back “with their own inimitably unimaginative solution to the problem.”
In rounding off this latest installment of what many will see as a sad and shabby story of institutional ignorance and indifference, it is worth turning to historian David Crane’s book “Empires of the Dead”, which chronicles the origins of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and growth of the culture of national remembrance after World War One. Crane makes this biting observation regarding the Admiralty’s response to plans to commemorate the dead following the First World War;
“With their tradition of burial at sea and their resolutely unsentimental world vision, the Admiralty were no more sensitive to the remains of the missing than to General Gordon’s and they moved as slowly as possible to meet their obligations…”
“…it was another eighteen months of internal dithering and external prompting before they were ready to come back to the Commission with their own inimitably unimaginative solution to the problem.”
It seems then that the Admiralty’s modern day counterparts in Whitehall and at Whale Island are simply following Naval tradition, and it could be seen as a damning indictment of the attitude and achievements of the civil servants at Navy Command and in the Ministry of Defence, that a group of archaeologists, working largely in their own time, and for no reward, have done more to investigate and expose the theft of Government property and what will be seen as the desecration of the graves of Royal Navy sailors in less than a year, than the combined forces of the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Defence Police and other Government departments and agencies have managed in the more than five years since these particular allegations first emerged.
If never before, in this centenary year of the Battle of Jutland/Skagarrak there will be many on both sides of the North Sea, and further afield; those who are the descendants of veterans and those who still remember and mourn the lost; who have a right to insist that their elected Politicians, who have been given clear evidence of the desecration of the Jutland wrecks, must do all they can to bring the alleged looters to account and prevent further looting of the wrecks.
If those politicians do not act, the next time they stand up to make a speech rightly lauding the sacrifice of those who served and the ongoing remembrance of their families, they may well be accused of cynical grandstanding on the maritime military graves of the dead.
thePipeLine contacted Friendship Offshore BV and asked the company to respond to the allegations carried in this article. Up to the time of publication Friendship Offshore have failed to reply.
The Channel 4 Documentary “Secret History: Jutland World War One’s Greatest Sea Battle”, which includes coverage of the Jutland wreck surveys was broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 at 8pm on Saturday 21 May 2016, and is now available on the Channel 4 catch up service.
A file detailing the evidence behind this article will be sent to the Prime Minister David Cameron, the Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon, the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence Emily Thornbury, the Foreign Office, the Department for Culture Media and Sport, Historic England, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the German Embassy, the Dutch Embassy, the Dutch Police and UNESCO.
We will report developments.