Posted by: Didapper PJ16 JUL 2009
One of the world’s most famous naval vessels is HMS Victory, which saw action in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic wars, most famously as Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Now resting in dry dock in Portsmouth, she is the world’s oldest naval ship still in commission.
What many people may not know about the Victory is that she was the sixth vessel to be given that name. Furthermore, her predecessor, which sank with all hands in 1744, also still exists, albeit as a wreck on the seabed.
The fifth Victory was recently rediscovered in the western English Channel. Unfortunately she shows clear signs of damage inflicted by the activities of the modern fishing industry. Several of her cannon have been dragged off site, including one four-ton gun that has been hauled 55 metres and flipped upside down.
Other cannon show scratches made by friction from trawler cable and nets. Fishing net mesh and fishing cable are snagged around various parts of the wreck.
The presence of lobster pots indicates a further risk. Such pots are typically strung out across the seabed in lines of up to 100 traps. When pulled in from the surface of wooden wrecks they may snag on and snap hull remains or drag artifacts out of context, leaving them susceptible to dislocation, scouring and destruction by bottom currents.
The fifth Victory is at great risk of further damage since it lies at the centre of the Channel area with the heaviest deep-sea fishing activity. Fishing here is dominated by beam trawlers, scallop dredgers and lobster potters — all of which are likely to originate from the UK rather than from elsewhere in Europe.
Examination of the Channel’s wrecks could greatly expand our knowledge of maritime history. Unfortunately, of 267 shipwrecks recorded in a survey of the English Channel and Western Approaches, at least 115 already show clear evidence of fishing disturbance.
Let us hope that marine archaeologists can explore them all before they are completely ruined by the UK fishing industry.