Divers thwarted in plans to salvage 100+ year-old liquor

A team of marine explorers requesting permission to retrieve many liquor bottles from off the Cornish coastline, have been denied their quest.

The bottles – said to include sauternes, champagne and premier cru claret – are thought to be all uniquely preserved after a century in the dark and deep.

The alcohol – originally onboard the SS Libourne which was targeted and sunk by the German Navy during World War I – is now scattered around the wreck, with fears of it spreading further when caught in trawler nets.

Within months of the declaration of war, Germany had announced an exclusion zone around Britain, within which merchant ships were sunk without warning. By 1917, an average of 15 British vessels were being sunk every day as U-boat captains hunted through coastal waters, most notably the English Channel. The Admiralty responded by escorting merchant convoys and so, when the Libourne set out from Bordeaux, she was one of a group of five steamships. They were on the return leg of a mission to deliver coal to Britain’s French allies, reports the Daily Mail.

When the Libourne departed Bordeaux for Liverpool, via Penzance, its hold was full of wine, champagne, brandy and Benedictine — a liquor favoured by monks — along with £425 worth of gherkins.

The crew abandoned ship after being hit and the ship sunk with the loss of three lives. The pickles weren’t sighted during the initial investigation but divers found many bottles.

“There were a lot of bottles visible on the wreckage, but we also felt there were a lot more under the sand and pieces of wreckage,” Dominic Robinson – a diver – told NeedToKnow.online.

Robinson said the vessel was far offshore and good weather was needed to reach her safely.

The treasure hunters applied for permission to salvage the bottles but have been refused permission to mount a salvage operation.

“We have invested a lot of money and went ahead with the exploratory dive knowing that the law allowed it. But we were subsequently told that the government, despite not signing the Unesco treaty, applies its policy,” Daniel Jayson, an expert in underwater operations, told the Daily Mail.

“They have told us that we can bring up a few bottles to evaluate them — but that’s financially impossible, you can’t get investment for just a few bottles.

“There is no common sense. We’ve tried to have grown-up conversations with Historic England, but we have got nowhere. If they don’t let us salvage it, the cargo will simply be lost. It’s bureaucratic nonsense.”

Similar vintages of fine wines found in Swedish waters recently fetched up to £9,000 apiece, and wine connoisseurs are, says Jayson, “falling over themselves” to get their hands on it”.

Ian Hudson, a Belgian sea captain involved in the proceedings, says: “The deep ocean is the perfect cellar; it’s dark and the temperature is cool and constant. Many wine houses are storing wine underwater now. I’ve spoken to experts who sampled wines previously salvaged from wrecks and the flavour is amazing. It can sell for 25,000 euros a bottle.”

The recovery attempt has, reportedly, been blocked by Historic England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

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