By Siobhan Cronin
HISTORIAN and Lusitania expert Paddy O’Sullivan from Bandon is calling on the Department of Heritage to stop obstructing dives to the Lusitania site.
Experienced diver Paddy, who has written extensively on the subject, says ‘answers in regard to what sank the Lusitania are tantalisingly near, once heritage interference stops’.
The ship is now under a heritage order, which was imposed by our current president Michael D Higgins, in his role as Minister, in 1995. The order prohibits divers, other than Department employees, from visiting the wreck.
But Mr O’Sullivan has written to the Heritage Minister, Heather Humphreys, saying the order was incorrectly imposed, on foot of what he believes was an ‘elaborate hoax’.
He says a story was leaked to the press saying priceless paintings were being carried on board, yet insurance certs for the paintings show them being covered for just – ‘not exactly what one would expect for a so-called priceless masterpiece’.
‘Your divers are not proficient in the deep diving techniques which require expertise in the use of helium/oxygen and mixed gas equipment,’ Mr O’Sullivan says in his letter to the Minister.
The diver is also supporting Lusitania owner Gregg Bemis who has also asked for the State to stand down its opposition to diving to the wreck.
Referring to a recent Southern Star article, Mr O’Sullivan disputes the Minister’s claim that the Lusitania is a resting place for 1,000 people who lost their lives there – and is therefore a grave.
‘No evidence is supplied to back up this grossly exaggerated figure,’ he says. Twenty men, who were moving baggage, were definitely killed in the explosion, and over 300 bodies were recovered from the sea, he claims. However, the remainder died later in the freezing Atlantic or from injuries sustained in the explosion.
‘Every respect is shown to the final resting place of the Lusitania and the lives lost as a consequence of its sinking,’ he says, adding that annual commemorations are carried out in the area, and diving missions have always respected the dead. ‘Visiting the Lusitania graveside is not an act of desecration as often implied by your heritage police,’ he writes.
Asking for the order to be set aside in the interest of ‘historical research’, he says: ‘Twenty years of obstruction is quite enough. Some suggest that exploding boilers were the direct cause of the sinking, this is easily answered by allowing divers a free hand to visit number one boiler room and carry out an inspection … Many more questions could be answered for the historian.’
‘I am not in any way involved with Gregg Bemis’s operations,’ he tells the Minister, ‘I am merely an historian and bystander in the whole saga.’
Urging the Minister to respond, he adds: ‘I would be very grateful if you could deal directly with my request. I do not wish to be sidelined with yet another fob off to your diving archaeology division. In past dealings, I have found them to be afflicted with Closed Mind Syndrome.’
Speaking to The Southern Star this week, Mr O’Sullivan, who is due to talk at a number of Lusitania commemoration events this weekend, said he has, as yet, received no reply from the Minister.