The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a claim made by a group of divers against the Finnish state concerning a ship that sank in Finnish waters in the 18th century.
The court ruled against the divers who found the wreck of the Dutch ship, the Vrow Maria, off the southwest tip of Finland.
According to the ruling, Finland did not violate the divers’ rights by forbidding them from raising the sunken ship wreck, or from taking objects found in it.
The divers felt that as sea rescuers, they would have the right to monetary compensation for finding the Vrow Maria. They felt that Finland had treated them unfairly, and had favoured the Maritime Museum of Finland.
The Vrow Maria went down in the waters of Nauvo while en route to St. Petersburg.
The discovery of the wreck in 1999 led to a dispute between the finders and the National Board of Antiquities.
The lengthy legal battle that followed was a test of how legislation on ancient artefacts should apply to objects found under water.
The sunken vessel was found by the Pro Vrow Maria association, under the direction of professional diver Rauno Koivusaari.
The finders stipulated that they were engaging in maritime rescue, as defined under maritime legislation, when they brought up three clay pipes, one ceramic bottle, a seal, and a zinc ingot from the vessel in 1999.
They also felt that in accordance with maritime legislation, they were entitled to rescue compensation, and that as the first on the site, they were entitled to the salvage of the entire cargo.
The claim was rejected by Turku District Court in 2004. In the following year, the Turku Court of Appeals agreed that the wreck and its cargo are property of the state, in accordance with the law on antiquities.
The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on the matter in November 2005, after which the plaintiffs appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.