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Sunken WW1 battleships up for sale on eBay

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This is a bit disturbing:

pyright Orkney Library Archives/ScapaFlowWrecks.com Image caption The German battleship Markgraf was among those scuttled in 1919

Four World War One battleships sunk in Scapa Flow in Orkney in 1919 are being sold on eBay - with an asking price of just over £800,000.

The vessels, which were part of the German High Seas fleet, were deliberately scuttled 100 years ago.

When the listing first appeared on online auction site eBay, some assumed the advert was a hoax.

But the seller explained that they had been bought from a defunct salvage company.

The vessels will now be sold to the highest bidder.

The ships - the Markgraf, Karlsruhe, Konig and Kronprinz Wilhelm - are scheduled monuments, which recreational divers are not supposed to enter.

But Drew Crawford, agent for retired Tayside diving contractor Tommy Clark, said the owner of the wrecks would be allowed to access them.

They cannot be removed from the seabed.

Ebay listing for four battleshipsImage copyright Ebay Image caption The listing describes the ships as "pre-owned" and says the buyer must collect

Mr Crawford told BBC Radio Orkney it might be possible to obtain licences to retrieve artefacts from the ships, although the commercial salvage of the wrecks themselves would no longer be allowed.

He said: "The wrecks ended up under the ownership of Scapa Flow Salvage.

"That company went into receivership and they were put out for tender at the time, and Mr Clark purchased them from the receiver.

"There's a sense of pride associated with these absolutely iconic vessels, but ultimately he's come to a time in his life where he's not going to do anything further with them, so it's a case of passing the baton on to the next owner."

MarkgrafImage copyright UHI Archaeology Institute Image caption Markgraf lies on the seabed

The fleet had been interned in Scapa Flow after surrendering in the Firth of Forth.

Admiral Ludwig von Reuter ordered the deliberate sinking of his ships in WW1 because he feared either the resumption of hostilities if treaty negotiations in Paris broke down, or the seizing of the fleet by the Allies as war reparations.

During the 1920s and 30s a number of the vessels were lifted from the sea bed by commercial contractors, and broken up.

Some historians argue that saved Orkney from the worst effects of the post-war recession.

'A lot of interest'

And the presence of the wrecks in Scapa Flow has made the area a destination of choice for divers, keen to see the remains on the sea bed.

Mr Crawford said: "We anticipated that there's a very small number of people that would be interested in such a purchase, and would have the funds for such a purchase. And that it was necessary to cast the net as wide as possible.

"We've had a lot of interest. A lot of people from overseas have been in contact. We've been pleasantly surprised at the number of people who've been in touch, and the interest that we've had to date."

The anniversary of the scuttling is being marked with a series of events across Orkney - including conferences, exhibitions, specially written plays, and a commemorative service at Lyness cemetery in Hoy, where a number of German sailors shot by the Royal Navy during the scuttle are buried.

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The good news is all of the wrecks listed as being for sale are designated as Scheduled Monuments. 

Ownership can be freely traded, but its a bit like owning a listed building - there is very little an owner can do without permission - and the laws of salvaging anything from the wreck are enforced. A group of divers were caught with some artefacts recently and the two that entered a guilty plea were fined £18,000 each.

There is a wreck of the UB116*, a First World War submarine sunk in Hoxa Sound, has changed ownership several times since the 1960s when MoD sold it to a salvage company called Metal Recoveries. Eventually the wreck was sold to a private owner and upon their passing their heir inherited the wreck.

The non-ferrous parts of the German warships like condensers, pumps and torpedo tubes were salvaged a long time ago. Today, the high value scrap would be the steel armour plate. Its 14" thick in places and is clean of radiation, having been cast way before the atomic age started in 1945. Known as "Low Background Steel" this stuff is in demand for sensitive medical and scientific devices, but its actual market value is unknown. It may cost more to recover the stuff than its worth...read on...

When Cox & Danks finally wound up their salvage work and sold the wrecks in the 1930s it was estimated the company had lost around £10,000 over the years, or around £1.5m in today's money. A few years ago the Orkney Dive Boat Association did a rough calculation and reckoned sport diving - folks paying to see the wrecks - was worth about £1.5m per annum to the local economy. With the gift of hindsight it would have been a better long-term investment to leave everything where it was...

So yes the wreck ownership can be transferred by gift, inheritance or sale. But in all honestly, what are you going to do with it apart from put the title deed on your wall? 


*Shameless plug - I wrote a book about this sub and if its piqued your interest heres a link: Story of UB116

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