Two divers have been hauled into court after failing to declare £250,000-worth of historic treasure they plundered from shipwrecks.
Edward Huzzey, 55, and David Knight, 52, dived seven miles off the coast of Dover, Kent, to salvage the valuables from nine submerged vessels, some dating back more than 200 years.
The pair used explosives and professional cutting equipment to free material from one vessel carrying East India Company cargo in 1807.
Over the course of 13 years, they also raided German ‘U-8’, ‘UC-64’ and ‘UB-40’ submarines from the First World War.
But they failed to inform the Maritime and Coastal Agency’s (MCA) Receiver of Wrecks about any of their finds.
Their haul contained eight bronze cannons, worth £12,000 each, three propellers, ingot, copper, lead and zinc.
Huzzey and Knight used a boat with a large crane on the back to retrieve the half-tonne cannons, six of which are still missing.
The unique ingots were marked ‘William Harvey & Co – Truro’ on a vessel called the Harlingen which they found in July 2001.
The pair, who detailed their use of explosives and cutting gear in diaries found by investigators, pleaded guilty to 19 charges at Southampton Magistrates’ Court.
They now face heft fines with maximum penalties of £2,500 for each undeclared find or the risk they must pay the rightful the owners twice the value of the items recovered.
Wreck material found in UK waters must be reported to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s Receiver of Wreck within 28 days in order to give the rightful owners a chance to claim it.
If no-one claims the goods within a year, they become the property of the Crown and the person who has found them receives a salvage award based on the value of the find.
This is the first time the MCA have brought a case to court for divers failing to declare their haul, breaking section 236 and 237 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
Knight pleaded guilty ten of his 18 charges while Huzzey admitted nine of his 12 charges.
District judge Anthony Calloway said: “Because you have admitted the charges it will stand you in good stead, Mr Huzzey and Mr Knight.”
Huzzey refused to comment and just said: “I would just like to thank the court.”
Speaking afterwards, Alison Kentuck, the MCA’s Receiver of Wreck, said: “All wreck material found within or brought within UK territorial waters must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck.
“It is not a case of ‘finders keepers’. Finders of wreck have 28 days to declare their finds to the Receiver.
“This case highlights the importance of doing that and demonstrates what could happen to you if you don’t.
“By reporting wreck material you are giving the rightful owner the opportunity to have their property returned and you may be adding important information to the historic record.
“Legitimate finders are likely to be entitled to a salvage award, but those who don’t declare items are breaking the law and could find themselves facing hefty fines.”
Mark Harrison, English Heritage’s National Policing and Crime Adviser, added: “We recognise that the majority of divers enjoy the historic marine environment and comply with the laws and regulations relating to wrecks and salvage.
“This case sends out a clear message that the small criminal minority will be identified and brought to justice.”
Mark Dunkley, English Heritage’s Maritime Designation Adviser, said: “The investigation has highlighted the need to tackle heritage crime, wherever it occurs, so that the remains of our past remain part of our future.”
The MCA also appealed to the public regarding the whereabouts of six bronze cannons that remain outstanding.
They were constructed in 1807 by W & G and have the English East India Company logo (VEIC) on them.
The pair, from Sandgate, Kent, will be sentenced at Southampton Magistrates’ Court on July 2.