Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 12

I witnessed a love affair today between two crows. Interesting is how the male sorts the best table scraps I threw out beneath a suit feeder. The big male sorts the best scraps, then stacks em' and flies up to a branch in the tree. He sits opposite her and scoots down sideways towards her, flips around and presents her food. She takes the food into her beak and then both rub their beaks together like knights in jousting match. Crows are pairing up and c0urtship rituals are beginning in snow country. Love is a strange thing among naturals as well as humans. Being divorced Bob Alcumbrack's true love was trying to find the cannon and he spent a small portion of his meager earnings on machinery and so it is now time to put treasure hunting in the proper perspective. As a treasure hunter Bob had to deal daily with 'what if another treasure group was watching.' He desired to do the right thing.

In Michigan, it is Public Act No. 184 of 1980, that prohibits plundering of underwater shipwrecks by outlaw divers and treasure hunters. Plundering, such as destroying timbers, rigging and booty treasures is an illegal practice, but some treasure hunters feel it worth the excitement to try to perfect that perfect crime. If they don't tip their hands and file with the state for salvage permit it is a 'felony'. The unscrupulous may try to escape paying taxes to the IRS, but any wind of impropieties and its a double wammy and its still a stiffer felony.

Bad and ugly treasure scuba divers can be charged with a felony rap if they recover bottomland artifacts within specific Great Lakes bottomland preserves, but may escape this if its for historical and scientific preservation. If recovering and destroying bottom property (treasure) that at fair market value exceeds $100.00 you receive the bad felony rap if convicted. The excitement of trying to outwit the state carries a conviction fine, a mere pittance of $5000.00, a two-year imprisonment, or both, and confiscation of all equipment associated with the illegal act. Some love the intrigue of trying to get away with the perfect crime of robbing from Caesar.

Other state laws and EPA regulation protect public inland bottomlands like streams, lakes and rivers. Remote and wilderness parks prohibit the use of electronic metal detectors to find lost coin caches and jewelry on government property, but it doesn't prohibit the use of such electronics on private property. The people as a whole own public property rights, but not individuals. Little do you know that a good compass can find buried treasures. The magnetic north hand will not point north when passing over precious metals buried in the ground. Dowsing rod, willow rods and hickory sticks are not considered metal detectors.

Legal permit holders are prohibited from damaging, injuring, harming or polluting any underwater archaeological site or property and are not authorised as such to remove any artifacts during or after salvage operations. All treasure or artifacts found, the finders must record and document items with detailed drawings. All must create underwater grids showing disposition of vessel and artifacts removed.

In a nutshell, the government wants to make sure everything found is accounted for prior to removal. The slipshod days of treasure salvaging for booty in Michigan is over. Just because you found the wreck and filed all the paperwork doesn't guarantee you'll ever see a dime from what you recovered. The vessels owners and the countries they hail from can challenge the treasure hunters and state's rights in court. They own all salvage rights whether found in the Great Lakes or the world's vast oceans. Case in point, the HMS Victory.

But wait there's more bad news. Sport scuba diving on wrecks is dangerous - so dangerous that Michigan law prohibits divers from suing Michigan for injuries being entangled in fishing nets, whether state or federal or any injuries associated with diving on sunken aircraft or water craft. That's old wooden vessels or big ships made of heavy steel. Diving on inland lakes, the fresh water seas and oceans is a dangerous sport. Michigan makes it illegal to remove any historical artifacts or cannons from any inland public bodies of water.

Absolutely nothing prohibits treasure hunters from attempting to discover something of value, but if the intent is to remove artifacts all must file a detailed plan of reclamation with the MDNR or Secretary of State. Items removed for personal gain or garnishing monetary gain is prohibited. But, if deemed historical preservation, the treasure groups or hunters should prepare themselves for years of paperwork for engineering studies, environmental impact statements and mountains of legal mumbo-jumbo that is sure to make them blow a gasket.

Bob Alcumbrack and his crew had to keep all this in their minds, because yes, we had to use scuba divers, too, but it wasn't in public property. However, he was sinking a coffer box in what was considered to be a protected wetland off streams. It was a historical and archaeological dig on private property. Spring water flooded the coffer boxes so deep scuba divers had to be incorporated in the removal of sediment and stones and to probe the bottom below for the missing cannon. Bob always felt that MDNR fleas were watching, but didn't interfere in the historical dig most thought was a local phenomena. It went far beyond local control. I felt the eyes of the DNR is probably what started Bob's big bear paranoia. He gave the DNR no reason to question his operation and how digging was handled, but Bob did worry about the liability for his crew and divers.

Today 25 years after Bob's big dig started treasure seekers now find cannons using GPS, ground penetrating radar tomography and behind vessels water towed electromagnetic sonar. Commercial fishermen dragging nets sometimes ensnare cannons from old wooden shipwrecks causing immense destruction of decaying ruins of vessels. Case in point in 2009, the discovery of the English vessel the HMS Victory that sank about 1744. The invested finders out of Miami, Florida, USA found the ship, but England and Spain have laid claim to the vessel and nothing can be harvested.

Shallow water divers once they find wrecks within reach have been known to rip them from naval carriages and they don't care about the architecture of what the ordinance was cradled upon. They sometimes discard engraving placques on the carriages that document the cannon's historical legend. These are the bad and ugly treasure divers who discard the historical significance. When I found Bob he didn't have a clue that in order for him to claim the cannon was authentic he had to find the brass placque, because it was extremely difficult to engrave a cannon. Those who engraved old metal caused miniature fractures in the metal, which can fatigue and caused so many premature explosions that were killing so many innocent civilians at Fourth of July celebrations between 1866-1894. The federal government wanted these destroyed, recycled or rendered useless.

Bob was glad he wasn't digging for the ultimate treasure on public property, because the mountainwork of paper legalities would be insurmountable. He just made sure he didn't environmentally damage a wetland. Have a good day!

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