Sunday, January 01, 2006

Scuba diving thieves plunder rare unspoiled WWII submarine wreck "U-701"


By Catherine Kozak
September 08, 2004

© Dave Summers
The 88mm deck gun lying next to its former host, the

HATTERAS VILLAGE, North Carolina -- As far as shipwrecks go, the World War II German submarine U-701 was pristine. Its location 22 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras was known by few divers and, as a consequence, it was virtually intact 62 years after it was sunk.

That's the way the local diving community and the German and U.S. governments were trying to keep it, with a plan to create a diving preserve in the works.

But a dive party in late August discovered that one of the last unsullied German U-boats on the East Coast had been picked over. At least 10 sailors are believed to be entombed in the boat.

"Basically, they've taken anything that they could get," said John Pieno, owner of Outer Banks Diving in Hatteras.

"They've just done wanton destruction that's uncalled for.

"Pieno, one of the proponents of the proposed preserve, said that the U-701's radio antenna and the sky periscope had been removed, the housing around the attack periscope had been cut, 88 shells had been taken, and the deck gun was missing some brass and sights. There also was evidence of dredging around the conning tower, where items inside were missing.

A notice in the Federal Register, published Feb. 5, stated that Germany retains ownership of its vessels and that sunken warships are maritime graves that warrant respect.

"No intrusive action may be taken in relation to German State vessels without the express consent of the German government," the notice said. The notice also stated that the United States will use its authority to protect and preserve sunken craft of all nations, whether in federal or international waters.

The U-701 lies under 110 feet of water in a zone where international and some territorial laws apply.

The German government has been notified about the incident.

"We are now investigating this apparent recent intrusion," a German Embassy spokesman said Friday. "If this is proven, we will reserve the possibility to take legal action.

"The U-701 sank July 7, 1942, but it was not discovered until 1989 by diver Uwe Lovas. In keeping a promise he had made to the captain of the U-boat, whom he had befriended, Lovas kept the coordinates secret.

The wreck was located again by Pieno last winter after Hurricane Isabel partially unburied it.

With the cat out of the bag, local divers knew that in no time, a wreck salvager could get to it.

And they feared that the submarine would soon be an empty shell like the U-85 near Oregon Inlet and the U-352 off Morehead City, which have been dredged out and picked clean of artifacts.

At a meeting at the German Embassy in June, representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Coast Guard, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras and the local diving community agreed to work toward establishing a diving preserve at the resting place of the U-701. The idea would be to have the wreck available for divers to explore and take photographs, but that they would not be allowed to remove artifacts or salvage it.

An undisturbed wreck – a vessel that remains close to its state when it sank – is a rare treasure for a diver. Protecting the cultural and historic integrity of the U-701 also would have added to the Outer Banks' reputation as a divers' mecca, Pieno said, which is the reason the community was trying to preserve it.

"Economically, it's worth way more to the area intact," he said.

But artifacts from U-boats are highly sought-after, with some showing up on Internet auction sites with huge price tags.

"Everybody is just furious," said Craig Cook, an organizer of the dive preserve who has been diving on Outer Banks wrecks for more than 35 years. "We'll see our heritage disappear before our eyes. It's just unconscionable that somebody would do this sort of damage.

"The dive community keeps close tabs on each other, but creating a dive preserve comes down to a matter of responsible diving, said Kristin Valette, executive director of Project AWARE Foundation, a diving organization. An "action alert" went out to recreational divers in June, asking them to respect the boat's cultural heritage and not disturb it.

"There's no federal boats driving around out there to make sure it's enforced," she said. "So it's a tough one.

"Larry Keen, a diver who lives on his yacht in Hatteras and owns a 52-foot dive boat equipped with a magnetometer, side scan sonar and an air-lift dredge, said that he has been looking for the U-701 for 10 years, spending $15,000 in the search. But he said that, in recent months, he had promised NOAA officials that he would not touch it.

"We're not salvaging it – we're taking pictures," he said.

A diver for 50 years, Keen said that he loves to dive at wrecks but that he has never sold an artifact. He puts the ones he's proud of in his office . Even though the U-701 has already been salvaged, he said he still will wait for permission before doing his own salvaging. It's not clear if the diving preserve will still be pursued, despite the damage.

"What we were looking for here was a sign of responsibility on the part of the diving community, which preserves the things that are, in fact, protecting their sport," said Joseph Schwarzer, executive director of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. "I wouldn't be surprised to see more government regulation as a result of this."

SOURCE - Virginian-Pilot

Related article here.

See U-701 pictures here (



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