NCIS mulls probe into vandalism of sunken U.S. warship off Okinawa
From Kurt Reese/Special to Stars and Stripes
By Travis J. Tritten - Stars and Stripes
Sometime in the past three months, a group of unknown scuba divers drifted 135 feet down into the deep blue waters here.
Their destination was the ghostly wreck of the USS Emmons, a World War II destroyer battered by kamikaze planes and scuttled by the U.S. military in 1945.
The divers slipped inside the Emmons, pried loose an engraved metal plate, and disappeared again into the blue.
The looting of the Emmons builder’s plaque – a plate showing construction and commission dates – has drawn the attention of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and riled former crew members.
NCIS was considering a criminal investigation of the alleged vandalism on Wednesday, NCIS spokesman Ed Buice said.
A law passed in 2004 asserts all such wrecks around the world remain sovereign U.S. territory, meaning looting and vandalism is a crime punishable under U.S. law.
If NCIS picks up the case, it could be the first investigation launched under the new law, according to Buice.
“I think somebody stole it for a souvenir,” said Chuck DeCesari, an Okinawa dive company owner who discovered the missing plaque. “It is valuable to a collector as a piece of history.”
DeCesari said he made the discovery recently while shooting video of the wreck for the ship’s veterans group, the USS Emmons Association, and estimates the plaque was stolen within the past three months.