Diver Faces Jail Time for Fraud in Taking Historic Ship Artifacts

By September 21, 2015 Article, Marine News, Technology No Comments

A diver is in ‘deep water’ as he faces the legal consequences of fraud in making claims for historic ship artifacts in the UK. Kemplon Engineering takes a closer look at the story.

The oceans hold many secrets of history. Accidents, wars, harsh winds and raging seas have claimed many a vessel over centuries of human seafaring, hiding within untold depths artifacts, treasure, and precious stories of the distant and not-so-distant past. All around the world, shipwrecks capture both imagination and ambition, with many people, from scholars to adventurers and mercenaries, dedicating their lives to studying, recovering or even profiting from these vessels lost to the seas.

Because of the potential cultural and commercial value of shipwrecks and the treasures that they might hold, recovery and sales are governed by a very specific set of rules that must be followed. Unfortunately, there are instances where people are either unaware of, or willingly disregard, the rules in favor of their own agendas. The penalty can be harsh, as one diver from the UK is now learning – the hard way.

48-year-old diver Vincent Woolsgrove, had allegedly misled authorities about where he had found 17th century artifacts worth £50,000 ($75,000). He had claimed finding rare, Dutch bronze cannons in international waters, but had actually recovered them from Royal Navy ship HMS London, which sank 400 years ago and now lies in the Thames Estuary. The cannons, which have since been sold at auction to an American collector, now lie in a garden in Florida and has been, in a sense, “lost to the nation,” according to Judge Peter Ralls QC. A search of Mr. Woolsgrove’s properties yielded other historical artifacts from wrecks.

The canons, in particular, were recovered in 2007. At the time, it was not known that they were captured from Dutch ships and subsequently carried on the HMS London warship as a prize – which means they were in UK waters, instead of the diver’s claims. Years of investigation, including looking into Dutch navy archival records, coupled with the ingenuity and hard work of UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (“MCA”) would eventually yield this information.

Mr. Woolsgrove eventually admitted to fraud on the cannons. Proper reporting would have entitled him to a “substantial” salvage reward, but now, he faces a sentence of two years, and fees of £35,000 ($53,000) to cover prosecution costs instead.

For similar news on history, marine archeology, and other topics relating to the maritime industry, please feel free to explore Kemplon Engineering’s blog. To learn more about us, and the kinds of engineering services we are able to provide marine and industrial customers, explore our website and learn about welding and fabrication, precision machining, pipe fitting, laser cutting, and more. We have a wide range of capabilities and a very dedicated team ready to provide solutions for your projects. Contact us for queries and quotes at info@kemplon.com, or by phone at (877) 522-6526.


“Diver jailed for plundering sunken ship’s historical artefacts.” The Telegraph, 04 Sep 2015. Web. 13 Sep 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11845404/Diver-jailed-for-plundering-sunken-ships-historical-artefacts.html

“Diver jailed for Southend shipwreck cannon fraud.” BBC.com, 04 Sep 2015. Web. 13 Sep 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-essex-34152533

“Diver Jailed for Taking Historic Artifacts.” The Maritime Executive, 04 Sep 2015. Web. 13 Sep 2015. http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/diver-jailed-for-taking-historic-artefacts

Kellaway, Robert. “Diver lied to sell historic cannons from shipwreck.” Sunday Express, 04 Sep 2015. Web. 13 Sep 2015. http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/603097/Driver-lied-fraud-historic-cannons-international-water-claimed-Crown

Morris, Steven. “Diver jailed for fraudulently selling three cannon found in UK waters.” The Guardian, 04 Sep 2015. Web. 13 Sep 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/04/diver-jailed-fraudulently-selling-three-cannon-found-uk-waters-vincent-woolsgrove

Image “Shadow Of Hand In Jail” courtesy of sakhorn38 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net