Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ownership Fight Looms Over the Ontario

Less than a week after the discovery of the Ontario, a 1780 British warship at the bottom of Lake Ontario was announced, the ownership fight has begun.

It's being described as one of the most important shipwreck discoveries ever on the Great Lakes: the Ontario, a 24-metre-long, cannon-dressed British brig from the Revolutionary War that went down during a violent Halloween gale in 1780, carrying her mostly Canadian-born crew to the frigid depths of Lake Ontario.

But 228 years after the ship's brief and ill-fated career in what Americans call their War of Independence against Britain and its Canadian colonies, a three-way jurisdictional clash may be looming over the ownership of this stunningly intact relic of North America's past.

The Kingston, Ont., historian who wrote a book about the ship - and then helped two American wreck hunters locate and identify the sunken vessel this month off the New York shore - believes the historic treasure belongs to neither the U.S. nor British governments, but Canada.

That's a result, says Legend of the Lake author and retired lawyer Britton Smith, of the fact that the Ontario was never part of the Royal Navy but was instead built and sailed by the British army's naval department in North America.

"Brit may be right," admits Jim Kennard, the Rochester, N.Y., diver who found the Ontario with his partner Dan Scoville at an undisclosed site in U.S. territory - somewhere "between Niagara and Rochester" in about 150 metres of water.

"We're just the discoverers," Kennard told Canwest News Service on Monday. "We'll let everybody else put on the boxing gloves" and "sort out" the ownership issues.

Yikes! Grab your fins and run... this could get ugly.

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