THE signing-over, by the American owner, of the Lusitania wreck and its artefacts to the Lusitania Museum/ Old Head Signal Tower Heritage committee has been described by its company secretary as ‘gobsmacking’.
Speaking to The Southern Star following the signing of papers by Gregg Bemis at a ceremony at the Speckled Door bar at The Old Head of Kinsale on Tuesday, Con Hayes said they will now be future owners of the wreck.
‘We were gobsmacked really – to be quite honest – when he decided he was going to donate the wreck in its entirety to us. We thought we might be part of a trust or something like that, and it seemed to be going that way,’ said Con. ‘It’s a momentous day in our history and it’s something we never expected.’
The signing-over of the wreck and artefacts took place on the 104th anniversary of the sinking of the ship which was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the Old Head in 1915, claiming the lives of almost 2,000 people, while 700 survived.
Mr Bemis – who will be 91 at the end of this month, and has owned the wreck of the Lusitania since the 1960s – said that the time had come for him to step aside.
‘It was important that this be done properly and we get all the possible artefacts into the museum, along with working on the research, including what caused the second explosion,’ said Mr Bemis.
Mr Bemis believes that a second explosion aboard the ship may have been caused by the fact that explosives were being carried as cargo on the passenger liner, which he feels should not have been there. He also referred to the official death toll of 1,198 but said that three unnamed German stowaways were left out of the official figures, thus making it 1,201 people who lost their lives.
Local TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony thanked Mr Bemis for his generosity and she also acknowledged the work of the committee involved in the Old Head of Kinsale Signal Tower, who she said worked all year round and not just at the anniversary time.
The transfer of ownership of the wreck will not be immediate but will become effective if he dies, if he writes a letter requesting it to be transferred or if the planned Lusitania museum is built.