David Knight and Edward Huzzey, both from Sandgate, admitted to 19 offences between them, contrary to section 236 and section 237 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 for having failed to declare valuable items taken from shipwrecks.
Items were taken from shipwrecks off the Kent coast, with the first known objects removed in 2001. The shipwrecks targeted included German submarines from World War I and an unknown 200 year old wreck carrying English East India Company cargo.
The items included eight bronze cannons, three propellers from German submarines, lead and tin ingots, along with various other artefacts. The combined value of the items is thought to be worth more than £250,000.
Knight and Huzzey used explosives and sophisticated cutting equipment to free wreck material.
Sentencing has been scheduled for 2 July 2014.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is appealing to the public regarding the whereabouts of six bronze cannons which are still missing. They were constructed in 1807 by W & G and have the English East India Company logo (VEIC) on them.
By section 236 of the Merchant Shipping Act any person who finds or takes possession of any wreck in United Kingdom waters or finds or takes possession of any wreck outside United Kingdom waters and brings it into UK waters is required to give notice to the receiver of wrecks and if he is not the owner, hold it for or deliver it to the receiver. Section 237 requires cargoes from wrecks to be delivered to the receiver. These offences are punishable by fines and, under section 236, there is civil liability of twice the value of the wreck.
A BBC news report is here.
This case is considered in the Supplement to Historic Environment Law by this author which is published at the end of May.