Historic sentence for diver who salvaged metal off historic shipwrecks

2014-01-14 00:00

PORT ELIZABETH — In a first for South Africa a diver will be sentenced for salvaging scrap metal from old shipwrecks lying off the Eastern Cape shoreline.

Paul du Randt (53), an experienced diver from Port Elizabeth, admitted transgressing South Africa’s heritage resource laws, which effectively determine that no part of any shipwreck that is older than 60 years may be removed without a permit.

This is the first time that anyone has been prosecuted in terms of South Africa’s heritage laws, said Colin Urquart, author of Coast of Storms, which recounts tales of shipwrecks along South Africa’s coastline.

Du Randt was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, suspended for five years. He is one of three men who stand accused of illegally selling scrap metal salvaged from three shipwrecks.

The three men appeared in the Humansdorp Magistrate’s Court yesterday, where Du Randt indicated that he would plead guilty and that he would testify against his co-accused. His case was then moved to Port Elizabeth for sentencing. His co-accused, Jimmy Uys and Alan Withers, who respectively own an explosives and salvaging company, are however both pleading not guilty and they again appear in Humansdorp today. Du Randt, who owns a diving business in Port Elizabeth’s harbour, admitted that he had removed scrap metal from three different shipwrecks between March 2011 and May 2012.

The first wreck was the Norwegian SS Lyngenfjord, which sank in 1938 near the Tsitsikamma river mouth. Du Randt said they removed three blades from the wreck’s prop without explosives.

At Tsitsikamma they used explosives to get scrap metal off the British SS Bosphorus, which sank in 1867. The third wreck, the American Western Knight which sank in 1929 near Cape Recife, was also partly demolished with explosives.

Du Randt said in his statement that the scrap metal was sold to Power Metal.

His legal representative pointed out that none of the wrecks was “in perfect condition” anymore and said it was not as if bone china was stolen off the Titanic. No treasures were removed, only scrap metal.

The state pointed out that permits to salvage wrecks were relatively easily obtainable and added the wrecks were important for the area’s tourism.

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