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Divers Face Criminal Charges in Pillaging of Wrecked Ship

November 26, 1987

Aided by testimony from two undercover park rangers, the Ventura County district attorney's office has filed 26 criminal charges against divers who allegedly pillaged a wrecked steamship last month in the waters of the Channel Islands National Park.

Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury also announced this week that a lawsuit has been filed against Truth Aquatics Inc. of Santa Barbara and its president, Roy Hauser, owner of the Vision, the boat used in the incident.

The boat's captain and 15 of the divers, most of whom are members of the California Wreck Divers Club, are accused of using hacksaws and hammers on Oct. 4 to steal pieces of the wrecked Winfield Scott, a wooden-hulled steamship that sank 134 years ago off Anacapa Island.

All are being charged with removing archeological artifacts from a designated ecological reserve, a violation under the state Administrative Code. Ten members of the diving team are additionally charged with willfully injuring, defacing or destroying an object of archeological or historical interest, a separate violation under the state Penal Code.

Both charges are misdemeanors, which typically carry penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The key witnesses in the case are two rangers from the National Park Service who, "for observation purposes," boarded the chartered boat posing as divers on Oct. 2 for a three-day trip to local wrecks, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Borrego said.

On Oct. 6, a team of park rangers, Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies and federal agents boarded the boat and found articles, such as bottles, planking and brass hardware, that they suspected had been salvaged from the Winfield Scott.

The 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, escaped unharmed before surf destroyed the vessel.

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