Tuesday, January 23, 2007

On Wrecking

A curious item in the news today caught my attention. Apparently a ship, The MSC Napoli, recently got in to trouble just off the South coast of England, near the town of Branscombe, in the county of Devon. Shipwrecks are always a sad thing.

This shipwreck has given rise to a large amount of very public wrecking, as parts of the cargo have been washed up on the beach. Unfortunately, this is the not wild romantic (although somewhat sinister) wrecking found in Daphne Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn. This is wrecking of the contents of a modern container ship. It seems that the favorite booty, rather than being French brandy, in the case is BMW Gear boxes!

The reason this news item cause me some interest was that last year, I happened into a circumstance which made me investigate some questions about the practice of wrecking. In doing this, I discovered that wrecks are one of those topics that are handled in a most bizarre manner, under British law.

Wrecks fall under the responsibility of the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency. In fact, they are the sole responsibility of an official who revels in the title of the 'Receiver of Wrecks'. When I was looking into this matter, this was a person called Sophia Exelby. The reason for mentioning this is that, should any of the modern day wreckers wish to do the decent thing, then they should report what they found to her.

If I underestand British law correctly (and remember, I am not a lawyer), then there is an obligation on the wreckers to report their booty to the Receiver of Wrecks. Failure to do this could result in a two and a half thousand pound fine (around $5,000) and various other legal sanctions. After wrecked booty has remained unclaimed for a year and a day, after it has been reported, then the wrecker gets to keep the booty.

Now, on the face of it, this might sound like quite a sensible arrangement. 'Finders keepers' and all that. I would seem so, were it not for another slight oddity under the relevant legislation. Apparently, there is no time limit on when wrecked goods must be reported by! Thus, should the Customs Agents come asking questions about a case of French brandy, or your BMW gearbox, all an individual has to do is claim that they were just about to file their report, although they had not quite managed to get around to it. This same excuse could in theory work even ten years after the fact.

This oddity of the law probably explains why there have been no prosecutions for wrecking in the recent past. It also suggests that all those new 'owners' of BMW gear boxes will probably get away with it. However, what I find particularly appealing is the interaction of rather archaic and anomolous laws, with modern multi-national commerce and container ships. For some reason, there is something rather old worldly and nostaligic about it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read about this accident and I found that report should be leaved in 28 days.

7:25 AM  

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