The 49-metre, 400-ton German vessel UC-42, which sank in 1917 during a mine-laying operation, also appears to have been damaged by salvagers attempting to remove one of its propellers.
The Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s antiquities unit was alerted by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s underwater archaeology unit. Also involved are the Customs maritime unit, the National Museum of Ireland and, now, locally-based gardaí.
Connie Kelleher, of the underwater archaeology unit, said she had received several reports from divers about the desecration of the site through removal of crew members’ effects.
“Included in these reports to us, from concerned divers who do not agree with the pillaging of the site, are details of human remains being evident on the wreck site,” she said.
“To date, we have received reports of the structure being recently damaged by divers attempting to remove parts of it; of items that belonged to the crew being taken off the site; and that one of the propellers was being made ready to be recovered, as evidenced by recent work to it.”
She added that she and other divers with her unit intended to dive on the site to assess it as soon as weather permitted.
She has alerted the Irish Underwater Council (IUC), the main representative body of diving clubs in Ireland, seeking its assistance in raising awareness of the problem and said she had also contacted the Naval Service.
Martin Kiely, the IUC’s national diving officer, said the council’s code of conduct forbade members from interfering with wrecks or sea life and required them to respect all dive sites. “We would take a very dim view of people taking stuff from wrecks,” he said.
Ms Kelleher said the German embassy had indicated its “legitimate interest” in the wreck’s protection and preservation.
“The site has a particular sensitivity due to it being a relatively recent German naval loss with crew who are known by name, many of whom are likely to have close living relatives,” she said.