Deep sea heist: Divers are planning to revisit the site of the SS. Keilawarra to survey the wreck’s ransacked safe.
Deep sea heist: Divers are planning to revisit the site of the SS. Keilawarra to survey the wreck’s ransacked safe. Mark Spencer

Coffs diver surveys shipwreck

FURTHER evidence is needed before authorities investigate the ransacking of a safe on board the 123-year-old shipwreck the SS Keilawarra

Coffs Harbour diver Mark Spencer, who discovered the deep sea heist, is planning to return and survey the wreck site resting in 75 metres of water off the coast of Wooli.

He’ll dive the site to capture further proof that experienced divers have used underwater oxy-tools and cut open the safe, sometime over the past three years.

Further information will be passed onto the NSW Department of Planning’s Maritime Heritage Branch and forwarded to relevant authorities.

Leading shipwreck expert and maritime archaeologist Tim Smith says the investigation into the Keilawarra will set a precedent.

“This is significant. Of the 1800 shipwrecks in NSW, only 10 per cent have been discovered and this was the only wreck we know of with a safe onboard,” Mr Smith said.

The SS. Keilawarra shipwreck rates among the country’s worst peacetime maritime disasters.

It collided with another steamer the Helen Nicoll in December, 1886, off North Solitary Island with the loss of at least 40 people.

In a modern-day act of piracy on a sophisticated scale, commercial shipwreck salvagers are believed responsible for the crime given the difficulty of using underwater oxy-cutting tools at such a depth.

Under Federal and State laws, divers caught tampering with shipwrecks face fines of between $100,000 and $1 million

The Keilawarra, rediscovered in 2000, is regarded as one of the best dive sites on the north coast.



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