Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Marine Salvage

Yesterday, in response to the photo of the beached Navy vessel, the Betelgeuse, a reader asked these questions:

" Whatever became of the "Betelgeuse"? PRESUMABLY she was somehow re-floated and hauled off to her final resting place, BUT...I suspect that re-floating may have been unlikely, which means she may have been scrapped in place, but even THAT seems unlikely.

"Or perhaps somehow her interior was scrapped until the hull itself was light enough to be towed off the shore (though I'd guess this the most UNLIKELY of these scenarios).

"As old-time radio personality Paul Harvey used to suggest, how about 'the rest of the story,' Philip?"

Well, here is the rest of the story: I am no expert on maritime salvage laws, but two Midgett brothers on Hatteras Island seem to have been. In a 2008 article in the Island Free Press, about 
shipwreck salvaging on the Outer Banks, author Daniel Couch recounts the history of "wreck busting."

Couch writes, " When a ship wrecked along the beach, the international maritime salvage laws came into play. It is still recognized law today, with some exceptions. Simply stated, the first on board took possession providing they 'raced' to reach the notary public to have their claim registered."

Couch goes on to explain how "wreckers" were then employed to deal with the ship and the cargo.

He writes, "A recent example of this was the 1976 beaching between Kinnakeet and Chicamacomico of the World War II liberty ship Betelgeuse, bound from Philadelphia to a Galveston scrap yard, when it was cut loose by the sea tug towing her as bad weather threatened to wreck both vessels. Two Rodanthe men, Mac Midgett and Steve Midgett, the first to board her under maritime salvage laws and after the prerequisite trip to a notary, were awarded an undisclosed amount of money to 'guard' the vessel by the insurance company."

Eventually the ship was pulled from the beach and towed away. The Midgett brothers received their payment.

My first thought was, "Wow, what an easy way to make some extra money!" And then I thought, with my luck the owners of the ship would say they didn't want it any longer, and it now belonged to me. Then the National Park Service would demand that I remove the ship from the beach. Before long I would be bankrupt.

But I have to give it to Mac and Steve Midgett. I heard they attached a 9 lb. Danforth anchor to the Betelgeuse to claim her!

Out latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a reprint of a 1948 article about the Mail Boat Aleta, "Boat Hauls Mail, More." You can read it here:

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:23 AM

    Do you suppose those that gathered up the bags of chips donated any of them to a food pantry? If all it takes to claim a beached ship how many OI residents have a handy 9 lb anchor?