The owner of the RMS Lusitania accused the Irish government of abandoning the wreckage to pirates and treasure hunters after strict rules sank his own plans of recovery, the Belfast Telegraph reports.
Situated off the coast of Kinsale in County Cork, RMS Lusitania remains underwater almost a hundred years after it was torpedoed by a German U-boat as it made it way from New York to London, resulting in the loss of 1,201 lives. The disaster is considered the catalyst to US involvement in the First World War as 114 Americans were among those killed.
Gregg Bemis, an 87-year old businessman from New Mexico, bought the shipwreck in the 1960s and held plans to recover valuable historical artifacts from the sinking ground. He fully acquired the wreckage in 1982 when he bought out his partners to become the sole owner. The wreckage was originally claimed by the Liverpool & London War Risks Insurance Association who sold it in 1967 to US Navy diver John Light for £1,000. Bemis became a co-owner from 1968.
He now claims that “spiteful” rules put in place by the Irish government prevent him from recovering any artefacts from the wreckage.
"The Government officials are so glib and innocent sounding like they walk on water, but they add all these restrictions on and throw them at me so they interfere and impede," Bemis said.
"The people of Ireland are being deprived of an opportunity to share in a very historic event and to share in the income to be derived from this - a substantial tourist attraction could be developed that will go on for years."
One of the conditions imposed by the government which, he claims, halt his lifelong expedition to recover treasures from the wreckage, includes an order that Bemis indemnifies the Irish government of any incidents of injuries sustained if a dive to Lusitania is organized.
Bemis also claims that diving on the site could leave him open to claims from descendants of the dead for the desecration of graves
A statement from Irish government officials said, "The conditions attached to Mr. Bemis' licence are no more onerous than is absolutely necessary to protect a wreck of this global significance.
"It is also the final resting place of over 1,000 individuals who lost their lives during the tragic event of May 1915 and therefore deserves due respect as the grave site of those unfortunate passengers."
For decades, Bemis’ mission involved confirming a theory that the sinking was hastened by a second explosion caused by a secret cache of munitions destined for Britain's war effort. The RMS Lusitania sank in a remarkable 18 minutes compared to the two hours and forty minutes it took for the Titanic to sink.
"I'm trying to find out what caused the second explosion properly,” Bemis said.
"It's my property. I bought it. I invested in it. Is it wrong for me to want to recover it?
"I don't think that's being arrogant, I think that's being responsible."
Of all the 18,000 wreckages off Irish coasts, RMS Lusitania, 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale, is the only shipwreck with a ministerial order declaring it of cultural and historical significance. The order was put in place when speculation began that Sir Hugh Lane brought valuable paintings on board including works by Rubens.
Bemis requested permission to recover certain objects from the wreckage so as to potentially prove his theory on the second explosion and confirm another theory that that an order for full steam ahead may also may have hastened the sinking timeframe. He rejects recent research claiming there is no evidence of a secret munitions cargo.
The entrepreneur wishes to dive and recover items such as the double-faced bridge telegraph, which potentially records the last instruction from Captain William Thomas Turner to the engine room after the torpedo strike; the triple chime steam whistle, known as the voice of the ship; and the captain’s safe.
Bemis welcomed the ministerial order when put in place as it would protect the wreck from thieves while allowing him to continue his own recovery project.
"The order has a purpose for the State. It also provides me with the supposed opportunity to do my research without being inhibited by a bunch coming and pirating stuff from the ship," he said.
"Piracy is obviously something of a concern, treasure hunters, and it's something that can happen.
"Ireland and Britain have an equal interest in not having that happen. We have no idea how much of that has gone on."
Speaking to RTÉ, Diver Eoin McGarry shares Bemis’ fears and claims that it is possible that valuable artifacts have already been stolen.
"We've been banging our heads off the wall for years and not getting anywhere with the officials. It's now the right time for the wider audience to hear about this," he said.
*Originally publlished April 2015