Divers should know better than to plunder La Girona wreck says instructor

Any diver taking items from the wreck of a Spanish Armada warship off the Co Antrim coast should know better according to a local scuba diving instructor.

Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 3:37 pm
Undated handout photo issued by the Department for Communities of the anchor of HMS Drake, a First World War cruiser which was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1917 and sank in Rathlin Bay. An increase in the number of people diving to visit wrecks was noted last month during a period of warm weather, the region's Department for Communities said. Issue date: Monday August 2, 2021.
Undated handout photo issued by the Department for Communities of the anchor of HMS Drake, a First World War cruiser which was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1917 and sank in Rathlin Bay. An increase in the number of people diving to visit wrecks was noted last month during a period of warm weather, the region's Department for Communities said. Issue date: Monday August 2, 2021.

It comes after the Department for Communities revealed it was investigating the potential removal of artefacts from the site of La Girona near Portballintrae.

The sites of La Girona, which sank in 1588, and HMS Duke, a World War One cruiser which was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1917 and sank in Rathlin Bay, are the only two wrecks which have special levels of protection in NI.

Access to La Girona site requires a license and while diving at the HMS Drake site does not require any permissions, removal of artefacts from the wreck without appropriate consent may constitute an offence.

Tom Cass of Aquaholics dive centre in Portstewart said the weather conditions this summer has led to an upsurge in the number of divers off Northern Ireland’s coastline.

He said: “There’s a been a huge increase in the amount of people wanting to go diving.

“We take beginners all the way up to advanced divers. Everything we do is within the regulations.”

He said that while the majority of divers knew to ‘look but don’t touch’ there were some who wanted to take away mementoes: “It’s very rare we’d ever get someone coming in and asking about taking things off wrecks.

“You do occasionally. In any sport you get people that want to do things that are going to please themselves and ruin it for everyone else.”

He added: “We dive on the Drake but not on the Girona because it’s a protected site – you need special permission to dive on it.

“It would be common knowledge among divers that La Girona is a prohibited site.

“No one would be able to find the wreck unless they had that level of knowledge.”

Of the wreck of La Girona, Tom said: “You’d have to be lucky to find something there. It was more than 400 years ago that it went down. There’s very little left of a wooden ship from that long ago and I can’t imagine there being much treasure left.”

Of the 1,300 people on board La Girona, only nine are believed to have survived and the treasures remained on the seabed until they were discovered by a team of divers from Belgium led by Robert Sténuit in the late 1960s.

The Department for Communities said that following the alleged removal of artefacts from La Girona, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, they would be using a patrol vessel to undertake regular inspections of both La Girona and HMS Drake over the summer months.

The said that should anyone observe a person or persons diving the waters surrounding La Girona this should be reported to the PSNI on 101, describing their call as a ‘Protected Wreck Site’ crime report.

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