Following the removal of the Anchor, the same ship moved a few miles further along, to the possible wreck site of the Port Au Prince and started ripping up more artifacts for about a week, before returning to Nuku Alofa. The people of Ha’ apai were upset and a growing number of Tongans overseas became angry. Fortunately the Police were waiting and the Anchor is now in custody, awaiting further investigation. Those involved with the company issued the “Salvage Permit” and who carried out this action include the Deputy Prime Ministers daughter. It is yet to be determined if this action was sanctioned by the Govt., or who in Govt. even knew what was happening. A new Govt. dept is being formed now, to take responsibility for archeologically sensitive artifacts and sites, possibly moving control of these issues away from the Ministry of Transport, which is currently headed by the Deputy Prime Minister.
In the past few weeks, when the same divers returned to the wreck site to start again, they were banned from the area by the Governor of Ha’apai, who is acting for all Tongans. The reported sale of the anchor to a buyer in Britain for $500,000 may well have collapsed, not just over the controversy, but because the divers shot themselves in the foot. No buyer will pay big money for anything, unless it has “provenance” a piece of paper “proving” the authenticity of the artifacts. The only way you can get that, is to do the long delicate surveys and archeological investigations to “prove’ the identity. If you just rip something off the bottom, all you have is an old “thing”.
Three years ago, I was invited to a meeting with a senior Tongan Cabinet minister, to discuss the situation regarding the ongoing plunder of historic wrecks in Tonga. From that meeting I was asked to return to Tonga and assist with uncovering and documenting Tonga’s lost Maritime Heritage and the establishment of a system, that could ultimately lead to the building of an Underwater Heritage dive trail. I said I would. He has since passed away, but I continue to work toward that goal in his memory.
Tonga Blue Ltd is established in Tonga with a growing logistics and support base of concerned Tongans. We will never claim any wrecks as our own. They belong to the Kingdom of Tonga and the local people beside that wreck. We will only ever work on a wreck, or seek out its location, if invited in writing by the local people. We are assisting them now to form local committees on many islands, to take control of “their” wrecks and stop the ongoing plunder and loss of significant National Treasures. We offer experience, logistics and knowledge to these committees to empower them. This will ensure that each site has a full environmental assessment, photographic survey, detailed mapping and archeological investigation “before” any actions on the site takes place. We also will help them develop a “suggested” management plan, to put to government, on how each site could be managed in the interest of Tourism.
In 2013 we are seeking up to ten divers interested in underwater history, photography, film making, archeology, biology etc. to join three teams based in Tonga. It will be an exciting time. The details will be up on this web site next week.