Monday, March 10, 2014

A wrong corrected::The real discoverer of the shipwreck Hunley

Reprinted with permission from Dr Lee Spence.

Shipwreck Treasure Expert: Underwater Archaeologist, Dr. E. Lee Spence

The purple area on this map is the general area where Clive Cussler claimed to have discovered the Hunley. It was a bald faced lie, the wreck wasn't even within one mile of that area. Both the State's GPS coordinates and my location (as shown by the "X" on my map furnished to government officials and published in my book well prior to Cussler's alleged discovery) for the wreck are beneath the small red dot shown within the yellow outlined Hunley Protection Zone that was maintained by the Coast Guard during the raising of the Hunley.

A WRONG UNCORRECTED: The 150th anniversary of the Hunley's sinking will be this Monday. It is a significant mile post and I am glad the Hunley and her men will be properly remembered, but, a recent CNN story shows, an important part of the Hunley's story will not be accurately told. Much of the media will be crediting the wrong person (i.e. Clive Cussler) with the wreck's discovery in 1995, even though I found found the wreck a quarter of a century earlier.

Since the Hunley has been described by government officials as the most important underwater archaeological discovery of the 20th century, who found it should and does matter. To me, crediting Cussler is like crediting someone with winning a gold medal in the Olympics when they actually came in last.

I found the wreck in 1970. To protect the wreck from looters, I initially kept the discovery secret (except to the government) while I attempted to get permission to raise it. In 1975 word finally got out about my discovery, and I thereafter gave numerous interviews to the news media. I also wrote about it in various magazine articles and in two books (the first published in 1976 and the second in 1995). I gave its location in both. The second book actually included a map with the wreck's location correctly shown by an "X."

My discovery was later attested to in sworn statements by others (who had no obligation to me but had direct knowledge of the discovery) and, in 1976 the wreck was nominated (by the National Parks Service on the basis of my prior written reports to them) for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Under the law and government regulations, no shipwreck can be placed on the register unless its location is actually known. The nomination went through the normal review and accrediting process and the wreck of the Hunley was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. At that point my discovery had been tacitly recognized by the federal government.

In 1980 I filed an Admiralty claim against the wreck and posted notice for any parties claiming a legal interest in the wreck to come forward. I was claiming legal ownership of the wreck as the finder of lost and abandoned property. No private individuals responded to claim ownership or prior discovery or any other rights to the wreck. Although both the State and Federal governments were served with notice, neither contested my ownership claim, which was based on my physical discovery of the wreck and the theory that the wreck had been lost and abandoned by its previous owners. In fact, the Federal government took the position that the wreck was not within the court's jurisdiction since the wreck was over three nautical miles from the nearest shore.

The legal position taken by the government was good news to me because the court would have had automatic jurisdiction if the wreck had been owned by the United States government. So, their position effectively endorsed my claim of ownership to the wreck.

Because there were no intervening claimants and because the government was claiming the wreck was outside of the court's jurisdiction, my attorneys advised that we should seek dismissal of the suit as we already effectively won, we had publicized my claim as required by law and neither the government nor private parties had contested my claim of ownership.

For practical reasons, under Admiralty law, the time to contest such claims is very limited. That time had already passed. We therefore took the position that the government's failure to make an adverse claim of ownership was de Facto recognition of my ownership and we had the suit dismissed.

Believing the wreck should be properly raised and conserved, I offered to donate my rights to it to the State, and in 1995, the South Carolina Attorney General's office advised the South Carolina Hunley Commission that my 1970 discovery and my 1980 court action had indeed given me ownership of the wreck, and prepared documents for me to sign assigning my rights to the wreck over to the State. On September 14, 1995, I donated my rights to the wreck with South Carolina Attorney General Charles M. Condon signing for the State. The wreck was then being valued at over $20,000,000 so that was quite a donation.

Only after I donated my ownership rights to the wreck to the State did Clive Cussler, who had previously made public claims that a group funded by him had discovered the Hunley in 18 feet of water over a mile inshore of my location, turn over the GPS coordinates to "his discovery." When a reporter with the News & Courier (now called the Post & Courier) learned from the State archaeologist that the wreck was in 27 feet of water (the depth I had reported), Cussler blandly admitted to a reporter that he had "lied" about the wreck's depth and location "obviously to mislead" (his words, not mine). It would later be determined that his coordinates and my location (as represented by the "X" on my published map) were effectively the same position. The two locations were actually within the length of the salvage barge later used to raise the wreck, and the distance between them was well within the margin of error allowed for the official representation of shipwreck locations on NOAA navigational charts. Despite this, the reporter, who had gotten Cussler to admit that he had lied, later published a book crediting Cussler with the discovery. I am sure the flattering quote by Cussler about the book helped with sales.

Furthermore, although Cussler had publicly claimed credit for the discovery, the expedition that did the work was neither initiated nor directed by him. The expedition was initiated and directed by underwater archaeologist Dr. Mark Newell at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology (SCIAA). Cussler and his organization were brought in by Newell solely for funding and support purposes. Dr. Newell later gave sworn statements that he used my maps to plan and direct that expedition and he further credited me with finding it in 1970. He took the position that what SCIAA's 1995 Hunley Expedition did was to verify that what I had previously found was actually the Hunley. The real accomplishment of the 1995 expedition was to take the first pictures of the wreck. Taking pictures of the wreck was something that I was unable to do because in 1970 we had no equipment to take such images (due to the limited visibility), and that shortly after the discovery, the Hunley, which had only been partially uncovered by a storm, was completely reburied. It hadn't moved and we had no trouble relocating it, with magnetometers, but it was impossible to take pictures without uncovering it, and that even Dr. Newell agreed we were correct in not doing that.

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Kathy Dowsett

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