Newspaper article Daily Examiner (Grafton, Australia)

Thieves Plunder Shipwreck Safe

Newspaper article Daily Examiner (Grafton, Australia)

Thieves Plunder Shipwreck Safe

Article excerpt


THIEVES have looted the 123-year-old shipwreck, the SS Keilawarra, off North Solitary Island near Coffs Harbour - the scene of NSW's worst peace-time maritime disaster.

In a modern-day act of piracy, one of the safes aboard the heritage-listed wreck has been cut open and its contents stolen.

Commercial shipwreck salvagers are believed responsible for the crime, given the difficulty of using underwater welding and cutting tools at a depth of 75 metres.

Experienced local divers who discovered the heist have notified authorities, but it's still unclear exactly how and when the safe was cracked.

"Usually if treasure or anything of precious value is found on a shipwreck and illegally taken there's scuttlebutt that passes around diving circles - but up until now we haven't heard any rumours," Coffs Harbour diver Mark Spencer said.

Leading maritime archaeologist, NSW Heritage Branch deputy director, Tim Smith, said the Government was waiting on further evidence from the site.

"This is significant. Of the 1800 shipwrecks in NSW, only 10 per cent have been discovered and this was the only wreck with a safe onboard," Mr Smith said.

The wreck was officially confirmed as the Keilawarra by a dive team led by John Riley and Kevin Denlay on September 17, 2000.

A local professional fisherman Darcey Wright helped to pinpoint its resting place, having long suspected one of his favourite fishing spots was a shipwreck.

Chris Connell, from Mullaway Dive Quest, who was part of the successful expedition, says a lot of mystery surrounds the theft.

"It's a real disappointment, we had hoped the safe was relatively intact when we first reached it," he said.

Based on the damage shown in photos, corrosion scientist from the Western Australian Maritime Museum, Dr Ian McLeod, believes the safe was raided about three years ago.

Stan Young, of the Wooli Dive Centre, who knows the site well, says whoever looted the wreck sure knew what they were doing. …

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