Posted February 06, 2019 07:51:50In an era when there’s more and more cargo shipping to and from the United States, the number of American freight shipwrecks that are considered “unclaimed” has gone from around 15,000 to around 10,000.
The numbers vary from state to state and are likely much higher than those reported here in Washington state, where there are no federal regulations governing salvage yards.
According to the National Registry of Historic Places, there are currently about 2,500 unclaimed shipwresons in Washington.
These include nearly 30 wrecks in the Puget Sound region.
The majority of these are located off the coast of British Columbia.
Some of the shipwares have been identified and have been preserved for sale, but the rest are listed as “unidentified.”
“I think that’s a real big concern because if the salvage yard isn’t licensed or certified by a federal agency, there’s a chance they may be able to sell them,” said James Bessinger, a marine salvage specialist with the Seattle firm, Sea World, who has been helping salvage yards market the shipwrights they’ve salvaged.
Some shipwracks in the Pacific Northwest have gone under the knife and are being sold off to the highest bidder, while others are still being auctioned off.
“When they’re auctioned it’s basically a piece of history, and you don’t know what the buyer is going to be,” said Bessiger.
There’s one shipwreck that has never been auctioned and that’s the Coney Island wreck that sank in 1918.
“The ship that sunk was probably a freighter from the Pacific, and the captain was going to pick it up and take it back to the mainland and sell it,” said Bruce Tompkins, president of the Washington Shipowners Association.
Tompkins said it was a popular ship to sell because it had just a few survivors and was still in good condition.
“I know for a fact that there are probably around 5,000 people who were onboard that ship at the time, and probably between 30 and 40 people are still aboard,” he said.
The Coney island ship is still listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and has never undergone a major restoration.
“You don’t really know how much of a ship it is,” said Tompicks.
“It’s still a big wreck and a pretty cool shipwreck,” said Joe Mascola, president and CEO of the American Freight Freight Association, which represents salvage yards across the country.
The Federal Maritime Commission in Washington, which regulates salvaging yards, regulates the type of shipwreck, the location, the method of transport and the ownership of the wreck.
Salvage yard owners can’t get their ship’s hull or hull pieces taken off the wreck, so they must sell the ship to a third party who will then put it on display.
Tomsa says it is possible that a buyer can put up to 80% of the hull on display in an auction, but that isn’t a realistic scenario.
“We’re hoping that we can get the buyer to put the ship on display, but if not, that would be a big loss,” said Mascoli.
“What we want to do is have a listing of the items that are in the ship,” said John Davenport, vice president of operations for the American Maritime Association, the trade group that represents salvage owners.
“And that’s going to take a while,” said Davenports.
Tomesa says he’s been helping a few ship owners sell their shipwrames off to salvage yards, but they’re not always successful.
He says the first time a ship was put up for sale in the Northwest, the seller was not successful, so the buyer has to work another time.
“For the buyer, the last thing they want to hear is they have to go back to their original owner to get the ship.
They want to be able make a purchase right now, because they want the ship right now,” said Meghan Thompson, a licensed real estate agent who has done work on shipwars in Seattle.”
A lot of people are really interested in finding a salvage ship, but for a lot of the people who are in this market it’s just not going to work,” said Thompson.
One salvage yard that does work well is Barge Park, which specializes in salvage ships that are too badly damaged to salvage, but not badly damaged enough to sell.
“Some of them are not as badly damaged as we think they are, but there are still parts of them that we would want to see,” said Matt Anderson, manager of Barge Parks Maritime and Transportation.
The salvage yard owner has to submit a salvage certificate that indicates what is in the wreck and what it is worth.
“That would be the first