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AtlanticDivers

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In light of Gary Gentile's latest newsletter Another Boston Tea Party, I re-edited and re-posted my article concerning the current disposition of the U.S.S. Monitor.


Twenty years ago this past July, I was invited to be a part of the Monitor Photographic Project group led by Gary Gentile.  During the two week expedition, I dived, photographed, co-captained and acted as Diving Safety Supervisor for the project.  Besides the location and depth of the Monitor, numerous natural obstacles were set before us, including sharks eating buoys, strong currents, boats and weather.  Government interference proved to be the most divisive obstacle. 


N.O.A.A.'s assigned observer's procrastinations and demands from the most insignificant check list of diversions were chronic and accented with continuous complaints about such minor trifles as the sanitation of the head.  The unwarranted, uncontrolled ramming and boarding of our dive platform while decompressing divers tenaciously clung to a oxygen umbilical; proved to be a deliberate harassment exercise by  N.O.A.A. Marine Fisheries agents.   Had the oxygen lines been severed by the boat of armed government agents, they would have certainly put the project divers at great personal risk. Paralyzing injuries or deaths from decompression illness could have ensued from inadequate or lack of decompression from the  extreme depth.  Read more about this epic event in Gary's book Ironclad Legacy.    


Below is Gary's newsletter followed by my observation of continued government actions and pontification over shipwrecks.



Gary Gentile Production Newsletter 12-2-2010 Another Boston Tea Party


My long-time subscribers might remember a newsletter from last year, in which I wrote about the destruction of a minesweeper in Boston Harbor. To recapitulate, the YMS-14 was sunk by collision with another warship during World War Two. The wreck lay unmolested until I featured it in Shipwrecks of Massachusetts: North.

Marcie Bilinski and I discovered the site where the remains of five depth charges lay exposed among rocks and kelp. I photographed the depth charges, and used one of the photos to illustrate the back cover of the book.

I joked about how official heads would turn when they discovered that inert explosive charges lay only one hundred yards from the main shipping channel, plied on a regular basis by tankers that transported liquid natural gas. In a knee-jerk reaction, those official heads turned way too far. The U.S. Navy took it upon itself to demolish the wreck - without authorization from the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources.

The largely eroded depth-charge remnants could not have exploded on their own. Nor could they have been of any use to terrorists. Explosive material deteriorates over time, the same way food rots and medicine goes bad - by means of chemical breakdown.

Marcie and I conducted extensive surveys of the wreck site this past summer. If I claimed that the Navy blew the wreck to smithereens, I would be understating the case. Hardly any smithereens remain to mark the site.

Fortunately, Marcie had accurate GPS coordinates, else we might have thought that the wreck had been blasted to oblivion and hauled away to the scrap yard. Only by searching for hours at the end of a line reel were we able to encompass what used to be the site of a historic landmark that now hardly exists.

Navy divers detonated so many pounds of explosives around the depth charges that the wreck now looks like a moonscape. The seabed was unearthed by the blast, large boulders were shattered and the pieces were tossed great distances, and marine life was obliterated.

One bronze rudder post is completely missing. The other one was laid down horizontally by the explosion, and a deep pit was gouged out of the rocky substrate beneath it. The bottom contours are so changed that the broad patch of sand that extended outward from the depth-charge area is gone; the seabed is now a debris field littered with shattered rocks.

If there is any saving grace to this travesty, it is that some of the timbers of the wooden hull have been exposed by the removal of overburden. That is small recompense for the destruction of a fascinating shipwreck.

You can thank the Navy for demolishing a piece of America's past.








The Sanctioned Way to Destroy a Shipwreck.
By Gene Peterson

When it comes to shipwrecks, who is really protecting them for the future?  Archeologist, treasure hunters, and sport divers are all passionate about their right to explore, document and salvage them. The government wants to regulate control over shipwrecks and seek fees from those who visit them. The real question is: Should they be protected and who has the right to do so?  Can an over burdened government offer the best solution or  is it just seeking treasure under the guise of protection?  What values are lost, when we protect wrecks from ourselves?  Nature relentlessly claims them no matter what engagement.  Intervention cannot prevent the inevitable.  It may in fact hasten its demise and ruin opportunity for future divers to explore.

Some sanctimonious legislators may impose meaningless controls over shipwrecks.  Those factions continuously modified their control to increase their domain. In reality some laws may be so vague  that the enforcers often dictate what they feel, not what is the statute. On the end there is no clear arrangement and often compromising decisions are put before magistrates to make foul judgments.  There are numerous examples of self serving and territorial bureaucrats deciding for the majority what only affects the minority.  In most cases they seek self importance or wealth.  Laws are not always fair nor are they victimless.
Most institutions only want historical high profile wreck memorabilia; something that will earn recognition or create a monetary gain. Such restorations can earn a large grant to maintain a project or charge a high fee for the public to view. The quote is often made. “This should be in a museum protected for future generations.” Once anything is placed in a museum, they are no longer accessible to the general public.   You can’t handle them or photograph them in their natural state.  That may protect the item, but the same enthusiasm cannot be generated looking through a glass window.  More people may be able to see these items in a museum but the explorer will lose a certain drive to venture to these sites.  Most items will go into storage and end up like the Ark of the Covenant at the end of the Indiana Jones movie. 

The ability to touch history and feel its power is lost for the explorer.  Rescues of these items are beneficial for the majority but pasteurizing and sanitizing the site  kills the desire to explore.....
If the top of a mountain was blown off because it was deemed too high, the thirst to go there would be lost.

The salvage recovery of the famous Civil War Iron Clad “Monitor” is an example of government hypocrisy and the destruction of a dive site.  American tax payers pay millions to protect the wreck located off North Carolina.  It was inaccessible for Americans to dive or visit under the false pretense that it was too dangerous, and too fragile. Not until a court battle led by Gary Gentile opened the sight for a photographic expedition in 1990 were Americans allowed to dive it.  Jacque Cousteau, a French underwater explorer got a permit to dive the wreck within one month of his request. Gary Gentile, a decorated Vietnam veteran had to pursue that permit for a protracted seven years until he finally prevailed.
 
The government tried to protect it by declaring it as marine sanctuary. Fishermen were not allowed to fish the sight or anchor near it under a severe penalty. A hefty fine ranging upwards of $50,000.00 would be sought if the site was damaged. Yet N.O.A.A, (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the assigned government protector of the  historic treasure dragged the site, tore the anchor, ripped the propeller and the prop shaft from the wreckage with little finesse. This weakened and altered the relief of the upside down hull. Without the support of those structures more damage was created by the currents as the flow found new preferences in their courses.
 
Several Union Navy sailors were claimed during the storm that sank the Monitor. Therefore, it was considered a war memorial. NOAA still dredged and excavated with suction hoses in the hull where sixteen American sailors’ remains lie in the pursuit of bottles and artifacts. These actions so parallel the quests by those whom have unearthed graves in search of personal effects. Yet this action is politically corrected with government exoneration.
 
The final death blows to the wreck as a dive site was the recovery of the turret where human remains were discovered and personal items were removed to be placed in a museum. This salvage by government condoned looters cost the tax payer millions. Now if you want to see these recoveries, you will pay an exorbitant entrance fee to do so.

Today, what is left of this once a celebrated dive site? It has been picked clean by the government, leaving little more than a few scraps of metal and the armored belt to encapsulate it. In reality the wreck was destroyed to protect it. From whom or what was it being protected? The wreck was depth charged during World War II mistakenly identified as a German U-boat hiding on the bottom. A dragger got hung up on the site in the early seventies and erroneously rediscovered the wreck. It was marked as a hang so that other fisherman would not loose their rigs on the wreckage. This afforded the wreck more protection by default.
 
    When I dived it in 1990, the Monitor was intact with the turret, the prop shaft and propeller in place. Artifacts were lying loose throughout the wreckage. Spectacular videos were made to show the wreck festooned with marine life and the turret holding up the armored belt. Divers were able to swim through the wreckage penetrating the engine room and threading around the turret without touching the hull. All that support has collapsed to the sand and those corridors are no longer attainable.

Now there is no persona left to the wreck. The effort to preserve the site by making it accessible to all that can afford to buy a ticket to a museum has ruined the dive site. The wreck has been protected from those future divers that might want to explore it in its natural environment and pay homage to those who perished there. Like so many things today our overseeing government has tried to tame that which it cannot control.

The Monitor is now a bland formless shell of a once symbolic and prestigious dive for skilled explorers. All the dramatic curiosities have been removed.  It’s main organs have been extracted and placed into vats of preserving liquids such as those objects that are pickled in formaldehyde.

The desire to explore this site has been diminished.  The Monitor lies in the darkness like a gutted carcass.  The turret is far from its final resting spot above the sea, no longer an attraction for the adventurer.  Once only a few could view the glorious tin can risking the rigors of deep cold water.  There are no more daring penetrations.  There are no more photographic opportunities before the great revolving cannons. There are only faded  memories of the fourth day of July in 1990, when those that dared stood before the Monitor stretching out the American flag.

 The paymaster of the Monitor, William Keeler in his log briefly stated after the sinking. “The Monitor is no more. What the fire of the enemy failed to do, the elements have accomplished.”

He was profoundly mistaken. The enemy has finally prevailed. Diving the Monitor is no more.



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AtlanticDivers

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Reply with quote  #2 
Gene - That's a brilliant piece of writing, told from the heart.

Gary Gentile

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MattSr

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Reply with quote  #3 
Excellent writing, Gene and Gary.
AtlanticDivers

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Reply with quote  #4 
Gene You are an excellent writer!  Thanks for rekindling the memories of a tough but important battle to make some of my most memorable dives ever!

Peter E. Hess

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AtlanticDivers

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Reply with quote  #5 

NOAA is trying to expand Marine Sanctuary to gain control of Mid- Atlantic Wrecks.

As a tax paying citizens, I urge you to protest NOAA's gross mismanagement overseeing the U.S.S. Monitor Sanctuary. The site was dramatically damaged by NOAA's neglect while allowing the wreck to remain in situ, and further by their abhorrently wasteful pet excavations, where tax payers financed multi-million dollar projects that could have been financed privately with less destruction.

NOAA has unreasonably restricted public access to the site to control and prevent damage to the historic site. In fact, the evidence of the deterioration of the wreck was predicted and proven during the first photographic expedition by privately funded members of Gary Gentile's Photographic Project in July of 1990. The final decimation inflicted by NOAA's misguided leadership was the death blow to the site where tax payers financed the unwarranted removal of the foundational turret structure. The wreck immediately collapsed after the gutting and today is no longer a worthy photographic site.  NOAA's failure to manage has wasted obscene amounts of unneccessary tax moneys with no warranted benefit.

If we don't complain to our representatives, seven years to get a permit will be the norm... to dive any wrecks. There should be unrestricted access to all these sites and NO PERMITS. NOAA is not saving anything except their jobs... They are gaining public sanction to destroy and regulate more wrecks like the Monitor. 

N.O.A.A. New Expansion proposal
 
924.3 Activities prohibited within the Sanctuary
E xcept as may be permitted by the Administrator, no person subject to the jurisdiction of the
United States shall conduct, nor cause to be conducted, any of the following activities in the Sanctuary:
(a) anchoring in any manner, stopping, remaining, or drifting without power at any time;
(b) any type of subsurface salvage or recover operations;
(c) any type of diving whether by an individual or by a submersible;

Also, C in particular scares me in terms of the cost of our diving.
(2) Amount.--The amount of a fee under this subsection shall be equal to the sum of--
(A) costs incurred, or expected to be incurred, by the Secretary in issuing the permit;
(B) costs incurred, or expected to be incurred, by the Secretary as a direct result of the conduct of the
activity for which the permit is issued, including costs of monitoring the conduct of the activity; and
(C) an amount which represents the fair market value of the use of the sanctuary resource.
(3) Use of Fees.--Amounts collected by the Secretary in the form of fees under this section may be used by
the Secretary--
(A) for issuing and administering permits under this section; and
(B) for expenses of managing national marine sanctuaries.
This is just information. You can still sit back and watch it happen. Once it becomes effective there will be little recourse.

We should be concerned about what we are allowed to do now. We should be free to dive all these wrecks without prosecution or persecution. You should be allowed to spear fish, photograph, or just observe without filing for a pseudo scientific permit. You should be incensed that you will not be allowed to dive these wrecks because you are considered proletariat. Only those whom have been touched by NOAA's scepter are worthy. If we don't care we deserve less freedom.

When I dived the Monitor in 1990, I was asked by the NOAA observer why I wanted to dive this wreck when there was so much documentation of the site? I answered that I wanted to feel the power of the wreck's history. Every American who is capable should have that privilege without prejudice. If your not passionate about this as an American you are not breathing.

Write your representatives and tell them how NOAA is wasting excessive tax dollars and destroying the economy of fisheries, boating, marine industry and diving industry.


Good Wreck Diving!
Atlantic Diver



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