Receiver Of Wreck Visits Islands

Alison Kentuck

The person responsible for overseeing all maritime wrecks and salvage in the country has been visiting our islands.

Alison Kentuck, the official ‘Receiver of Wreck’ for the UK, gave a fascinating insight into her work during a presentation at the Museum in Hugh Town yesterday.

Alison’s office deals with anything lost or jettisoned from ships including shipwrecks.

She says when most people think of items recovered from wrecks, they tend to think of gold and jewels, but it’s really much more varied.

In fact anything from a ship, aircraft or hovercraft, including cargo, fixtures and fittings and passenger’s personal effects can be classed as wreck and falls under her jurisdiction.

She’s dealt with a surprisingly large number of cannon and portholes, most recovered by recreational divers from wrecks, but she’s also had to deal with everything from glass jars of cherries from the 1800’s and hundreds of tonnes of pine planks to underwear and shoes.

Alison says one of her most difficult cases was the wreck of the container ship, The Napoli, in 2007 off Branscombe in Devon.

The shipwreck made news around the world as people flooded onto the beach to plunder from the containers washed ashore. Items taken included everything from bottles of moisturiser to BMW motorcycles.

Alison says her office was powerless to stop people taking the items from the beach but spent two years trying to establish ownership and salvage awards for those people that made declarations.

But she admits only a fraction of the wreckage was officially declared.

Alison says anyone recovering items from wrecks or finding items on the shore needs to report it to the Receiver of Wreck.

She says this is a very simple process using a form, which can be downloaded from the web.

After that, her office will try to identify the original owner, who under law is always entitled to get their property back, although the finder should receive a salvage award and may, in fact, get to keep the object, especially where the object is very old.

Alison says establishing ownership of anything prior to the First World War can be difficult, especially as it often passes into the hands of insurance companies that may have gone out of business.

Alison also disclosed another interesting, but perhaps less savoury aspect of her work.

As the Receiver of Wreck, she is also Keeper of the Fishes Royal ’ an ancient term related to the Crown’s ownership of whales, dolphins and sturgeon that are washed ashore.

This means that her office has to deal with the bodies of beached whales, a task that she described as “particularly difficult and smelly.”