Trawlers are destroying history on the seabed
By Robin McKie
Britain's love of seafood is helping to destroy the nation's maritime heritage.
That is the stark warning of marine archaeologists who say hundreds of sunken ships, from Elizabethan warships to second world war submarines, are being torn apart by trawlers - fishing for scallops and flatfish - dragging chains and cables across the seabed.
Investigations using robot submarines have revealed that serious damage has been inflicted on vast numbers of the 32,000 pre-1945 ships whose wrecks litter Britain's coastal waters.
Examples include the recently discovered 18th-century warship HMS Victory, which led Britain's fleet before Nelson's flagship of the same name. In 1744, Victory sank with all hands near the Channel Islands. Cannon hauled from the wreck showed it had suffered severe damage from trawlers.
"Marine wrecks give us a very important picture of life in the past," said Dr Sean Kingsley, of Wreck Watch International. "Everything used by the crew - pipes, cards, dice, cooking utensils - is preserved by the mud into which the ship settles, even its wooden hull."
Newly discovered wrecks are usually left undisturbed where they are assumed to be safe. But surveys by controversial US company Odyssey Marine Exploration suggest such wrecks are in danger from trawling, quarrying and oil-industry work.