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Officials Investigate Looting of Shipwreck

October 15, 1987|ELIZABETH TURNER | Times Staff Writer

National Park Service officials are continuing to sort through brass hardware and wooden planks to piece together an investigation into the looting of historic shipwrecks in protected waters of the Channel Islands, a spokesman for the National Park Service said this week.

Twenty-five divers and crew members aboard the Vision, a Santa Barbara charter boat, were questioned and released Oct. 6 after a team of park rangers, Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies and agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration boarded the vessel and found articles they suspected were salvaged from two wrecks--the Gen. Winfield Scott, off Anacapa Island, and the Golden Horn, off Santa Rosa Island.

The divers could face criminal prosecution from state authorities if artifacts were taken from the Winfield Scott, which is in a state ecological preserve. And federal authorities could levy a maximum fine of $50,000 for violating the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, since both wrecks lie in federally protected waters, said Ted Buttler, general counsel for the NOAA.

Hundreds of Artifacts

The National Park Service is expected to complete its investigation by the end of the week, said spokesman Nick Whelan.

Civil cases would be referred to federal authorities, and criminal cases to the Ventura County district attorney's office, which maintains jurisdiction over the state ecological preserve.

Buttler said the divers were found with "hundreds of artifacts," including bottles, planking, plating and brass hardware. The divers were equipped with hacksaws, sledgehammers, rock picks and bags that can be inflated underwater to raise heavy objects to the surface, he said.

The Winfield Scott, a steamer built in 1850, ran aground on Anacapa Island in 1853 with 825 passengers aboard, many of them miners returning to the East Coast with nearly $2 million in gold bullion. The passengers, with their baggage and bullion, disembarked before surf destroyed the vessel.

The last citation issued by the NOAA in the channel islands under the Marine Sanctuaries Act came two years ago, when the Winfield Scott also was the target of divers, Buttler said.

The Golden Horn, a British bark, was on its way from New South Wales with a load of coal when it ran aground on the south side of Santa Rosa Island in September, 1892. The ship was stripped of most of its valuables by three Santa Barbara men before waves destroyed the vessel.

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