THIEVES caught plundering a First World War shipwreck by a Royal Navy warship from Portsmouth have been fined £250,000.
HMS Severn's crew found the huge hydraulic claws of Dutch-registered salvage ship Friendship lifting £90,000 of steel and copper.
The metal was stripped from the wreck of the SS Harrovian, sunk by a German submarine 80 miles southwest of the Scilly Isles in 1916.
The British steamer was heading from New York to Le Havre in France carrying various metals for the Allied war – including more than 1,000 tons of copper bars, worth around £5m today – when she was intercepted by U-69.
After the crew were forced to abandon ship, the German submarine sank the Harrovian with its deck gun. No-one died in the sinking.
A century later and HMS Severn was on patrol around the Scillies in August 2016 looking for trawlers breaking international fishing regulations when she was asked to investigate the suspicious activities of the Friendship.
Once aboard the Dutch ship, Severn’s boarding team quickly determined the vessel’s master, Walter Bakker, had no licence to salvage the wreck – so they impounded his vessel.
The ship was sailed back to Fowey in Cornwall, where she and her illegal haul was handed over to the Maritime Management Organisation.
It took another 18 months to build a watertight case against Bakker and the boat’s owners – and six more months after that for sentence to be passed at Newcastle Crown Court.
Bakker admitted that he did not have the relevant licence and explained how the ship’s automatic identification system had been dimmed to avoid detection.
He was fined £2,000, the boat’s owners Friendship Offshore BV £6,000 – and they were also ordered to pay nearly £45,000 in legal costs.
In addition, the judge ordered the firm should pay more than £190,000 in compensation.
Commander Sarah Oakley, commander of the navy’s fishery protection squadron, said: ‘’It’s great to hear that the hard work of Severn has paid off with another successful conviction.
‘The fact that it’s taken two years to complete the work reflects the unusual boarding – and the magnitude of the infringements.’
HMS Severn was decommissioned last autumn ahead of new generation River-class ships entering service.