Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Are these bullets yours? - Lusitania Ammo owners sought

Nearly 100 years after she was torpedoed and sunk off the Old Head of Kinsale in Southern Ireland the passenger liner Lusitania continues to make the news.

There was an intriguing story in this morning's Irish Times newspaper which revealed that the Irish Receiver of Wrecks may shortly post advertisements in the country's newspapers to determine who owns a quantity of .303 bullet cartridges which have been discovered at the wreck site.

Now it has long been speculated that there may have been munitions on board the Lusitania - the question was even raised while World War 1 was still claiming millions of lives and has continued to cause controversy since. The British passenger vessel was on its way from Liverpool to New York when it was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine Unterseeboot 20 (U-2) some 12 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale on 7th May 1915 with the tragic loss of 1,198 lives. Only a few hundred bodies were removed from the water, over 100 of them are buried at the Old Church Cemetery in Cobh (then known as Queenstown) and the memory of the event is still indelibly written into the town's history.

Whether the Lusitania carried ammunition is no longer in any doubt. More than 15,000 rounds of -303 ammunition has been discoverd over the past few years by divers working for the wreck's owner Greg Bemis. The Cork Sub-Aqua Club have also located ammunition while diving there under licence. Of course this does not explain the mysterious second explosion which is said to have taken place after the torpedo struck and which is believed to have been responsible for the catastrophic loss of the ship. It is still in dispute how this happened although world renowned author and ship surveyor Robert Ballard (who discovered the wreck of the Titanic, another ship with a Cobh connection) believes it was caused by coal dust exploding. Perhaps we shall never really know.

The wreck of the Lusitania itself is owned by Greg Bemis an American who spent many years going through the courts to prove his claim to the wreck. However the Irish government declared the wreck a Heritage Site under the National Monuments Act and it cannot be dived without express government expression (it's a dangerous diving site anyway at approx 100 metres).

According to the Irish Times a sample of Remington -303 cartridges has been handed over to the Receiver of Wrecks in Cork by agents of Mr. Bemis. The Irish Customs service are now assessing the "material" and if ownership is not ascertained in 12 months then cartridges become property of the salvor.

Will the owners of the ammunition please step forward?

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