Written by Jo Mattock Thursday, 07 October 2010 15:29
The Holland 5 has been designated a protected wreck site and it is illegal to dive it without a licence.
Mark Beattie-Edwards, programme director of the Nautical Archaeology Society, dived the wreck in June and noted that the hatch was no longer attached to the submarine. A further survey dive was done in August, which confirmed that the hatch was nowhere on the site. The theft has been reported to Sussex Police by English Heritage.
'Of all the designated wreck sites, the Holland 5 is one of those that lends itself to visiting divers,' said Beattie-Edwards. 'It looks like a Holland class submarine - it's upright and intact. The marine life on it is wonderful and it's a pleasant dive to do.
'Should illegal recovery of objects continue from these sites, the only action authorities can take is to ban access. It's a shame that access to it is threatened by unscrupulous individuals.'
The hatch could have been stolen as long as two years ago. The last time it was seen in situ was in 2008 - there was no diving on the wreck in 2009 due to bad weather.
No recovery of the hatch has been reported to the Receiver of Wreck, which is also an offence.
BSAC's wreck officer Jane Maddocks said the theft of the hatch was 'both criminal and selfish'. 'Some of the agencies involved in the protection of wrecks are coming to the conclusion that a high profile prosecution is going to be necessary,' she said. 'The old idea that divers could dive protected wrecks responsibly has been seriously undermined by the selfish actions of a few who don't care that their cavalier attitude to the law will affect the access of the diving community to these vessels.'
The Holland 5 sank in 1912, six miles of the coast of Eastbourne in East Sussex. It was the first submarine to be commissioned in the Royal Navy in 1903 but by 1912 it was obsolete, and was being towed to Sheerness to be scrapped when it sank.
English Heritage has appealed to the diving community for help in locating this important piece of the Holland 5. Individuals can contact Sussex Police or Crime Stoppers by calling 0800 555111.