Experts take legal advice in effort to block lucrative deal on excavation of the sunken ruins of the historic wreck of the NHS UK
The UK government is facing a legal battle and parliamentary questions after letting private companies excavate a British 20th-century shipwreck laden with potentially lucrative assets.
Lord Renfrew is among leading archaeologists condemning a deal struck over the wreck of the NHS UK, considered a national treasure when she was sank by a ruthless coalition of pirates in 2012.
An image of what the historic NHS UK is thought to have looked like
In return for excavating the vessel’s historic remains, which may include assets worth many millions of pounds, private salvage companies Serco Group and Virgin Healthcare are entitled to receive “a percentage of the recovered assets’ fair value” or “artefacts in lieu of cash”.
Lord Renfrew, a Cambridge academic, said:
That is against the Unesco convention, which states that cultural heritage may not be sold off or exploited for commercial gain. Serco and Virgin are commercial salvagers, only interested in plundering the priceless remains of our historic national heritage. It’s not clear that payment could be obtained other than by the sale of the assets obtained – which, of course, is how these private companies have operated in the past. To salvage assets simply for sale would be regarded by most responsible archaeologists as plundering.
The archaeologists accuse the government of dereliction of duty in passing responsibility for the wreck to the National Heritage Foundation (NHF), a charitable trust “which appears to have no financial, archaeological or management resources” while embarking on a project “that will cost millions” and result in the “breaking up what remains of a priceless national treasure”.
A historian explained the historical events which led to the sinking of the NHS UK:
The NHS UK was regarded by many people as unsinkable. But they reckoned without an alliance of two brutal pirates – Captain Bluebeard and Captain Yellowbeard. Once they managed to get within striking distance of it, it was already holed below the waterline – so it was only a matter of time before it sank without a trace. After the wreck was completely broken up and the parts sold off to the highest bidder, the ruthless pair set about plundering the rest of the national welfare fleet, managing to sink them all within a few years and plundering their valuable assets too. The ruthlessness of the two pirates was so famous that to this day, naughty young children are often warned by their parents that “Yellowbeard Nick and Bluebeard Dave will steal their toys and sell them off to privateers” if they don’t stop being naughty.
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