Salvager of bronze cannon will get no reward

Posted: 25th July 2017

DiverA diver who was refused a reward after recovering eight bronze cannon, worth up to £1.2 million, from a centuries-old wreck will no doubt be ruing his failure to seek prompt legal advice. The High Court found that he was not entitled to a penny due to his delay in lodging a formal salvage claim.

The man found the cannon on board the wreck of an East India Company ship that sank about 200 years ago. He incurred substantial expense in lifting them from the sea bed. He was obliged by Section 236 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 to notify the Receiver of Wreck of the find, but did not do so until three years later. He was prosecuted as a result of that delay and, after pleading guilty to a number of offences, received a fine and legal costs orders totalling over £30,000.

The Department for Transport (DfT), under whose aegis wrecks found in UK territorial waters fall, rejected his claim for a salvage reward in respect of the cannon and other items that he had found at the sites of other wrecks. The DfT claimed that, in failing to promptly notify the Receiver of the finds, he had been guilty of fraud or other dishonesty and had clearly acted in bad faith.

In ruling on his judicial review challenge to that decision, the Court found that he had been treated unfairly in that he had not been given any opportunity to respond to those allegations. In rejecting his case, however, the Court noted that, by Article 23 of the Salvage Convention, such claims for reward have to be notified within two years of the termination of the relevant salvage operation. In the case of the cannon, that deadline had expired in 2010.