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Illegal salvagers punished after HMS Severn stops plunder of WW1 wreck

21 August 2018
Thieves have been fined nearly £250,000 after being caught by the Royal Navy plundering a WW1 shipwreck.

Instead of nets and beams plucking fish from the Atlantic, the crew of HMS Severn found the huge hydraulic claws of Dutch-registered salvage ship Friendship lifting £90,000 of steel and copper.

The metal was stripped from the wreck of the SS Harrovian, sunk by a German submarine 80 miles southwest of the Scilly Isles in 1916.

The British steamer was heading from New York to Le Havre in France carrying various metals for the Allied war – including more than 1,000 tons of copper bars, worth around £5m today – when she was intercepted by U-69.

The fact that it’s taken two years to complete the work reflects the unusual boarding – and the magnitude of the infringements.

Commander Sarah Oakley RN

After the crew were forced to abandon ship, the German submarine sank the Harrovian with its deck gun. No-one died in the sinking.

A century later and HMS Severn was on patrol around the Scillies in August 2016 looking lookout for trawlers breaking international fishing regulations when she was asked to investigate the suspicious activities of the Friendship.

Once aboard the Dutch ship, Severn’s boarding team quickly determined the vessel’s master, Walter Bakker, had no licence to salvage the wreck – so they impounded his vessel.

It took a scratch crew more than two days to sail Friendship to Fowey in Cornwall, where she and her illegal haul was handed over to the Maritime Management Organisation.

It took another 18 months to build a watertight case against Bakker and the boat’s owners – and six more months after that for sentence to be passed at Newcastle Crown Court.

Bakker admitted that he did not have the relevant licence and explained how the ship’s Automatic Identification System had been dimmed to avoid detection.

He was fined £2,000, the boat’s owners Friendship Offshore BV £6,000 – and they were also ordered to pay nearly £45,000 in legal costs.

In addition, the judge, who stressed that the Harrovian was an important heritage asset to the nation and that the firm should pay more than £190,000 in compensation under a Proceeds of Crime Confiscation Order.

“It’s great news to hear the Friendship boarding resulted in a successful conviction – it was certainly one of the more memorable and unusual boardings we did. Well done, Severn shipmates!” said Lieutenant Angie Violante of the US Navy and who led the boarding of the salvage ship two summers ago while on exchange with the Royal Navy.

Severn decommissioned last autumn ahead of new generation River-class ships entering service.

“It’s great to hear that the hard work of Severn has paid off with another successful conviction. The fact that it’s taken two years to complete the work reflects the unusual boarding – and the magnitude of the infringements,” said Commander Sarah Oakley, Commander of the Royal Navy’s Fishery Protection Squadron.

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