A team of divers, including a member of the Garda Siochana, who removed items from the wreck of the Asgard II have become embroiled in a maritime law controversy.
The team faced questioning by French police yesterday and may also have questions asked by the Minister for Defence, Tony Killeen.
Minister for Defence Tony Killeen was quoted in an Irish Times article as saying that he could “find no evidence at this stage that permission for the dive had been granted by either the Irish or French authorities”.
Mr Killeen said that the issue was one for Coiste an Asgard, the body that administered the national sail training scheme while the Asgard II was afloat, and that is due to be closed down according with budgetary recommendations.
The team of divers, led by recovered the steering wheel, ship’s bell and compass from the Asgard II, saying that they wished to retain the artefacts for the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire, and said that had they not reclaimed the items, other sport divers would have.
The items, once brought back to Ireland, must now be deposited with the Receiver of Wrecks in the Revenue Commissioners so that the owners of the wreck, Coiste an Asgard, can have a say as to what happens the items.
Capt Gerry Burns, a former master of the Asgard II who secured sponsorship for the diving expedition, defended the venture and said that the artefacts would be offered to the National Maritime Museum.
“The Government doesn’t care about sail training, so what harm were we doing?”asked Capt Burns.
The dive took place in 83 metres of water, more than 250 feet, making it a challenging and technical dive. Eoin McGarry of Co Waterford led the dive. One of Ireland's most accomplished divers, he was part of a team that explored the wreck of the Lusitania in September 2008.
Mr McGarry was quoted as saying: “The ship is still upright but listing to starboard".
“Unfortunately, it is not in a salvageable condition now as the wheelhouse and mast were ripped away by trawling activity, but the hull is intact and we have images of the hole which we believe led to the sinking,”he said, adding that he was disappointed that Coiste an Asgard had filed a complaint.
Below is a podcast recorded with diver Eoin McGarry about their dive on the Asgard, and also a Vogue feature on Eoin's dive on the Lusitania.