Traverse City Record-Eagle


December 28, 2008

State wants to drop shipwreck case

Just one wood timber has been found at site

DETROIT (AP) -- The state of Michigan says it has seen no additional evidence to support a claim that a famous 17th century ship is buried in northern Lake Michigan.

Divers at the site in October found nothing besides a timber protruding from the lake bottom, a piece of wood that was photographed in 2003 or 2004, Assistant Attorney General Louis Reinwasser said.

The disclosure was made in documents filed this week in federal court in Grand Rapids.

A group called Great Lakes Exploration discovered the timber in 2001 and believes it may be the wreck of the Griffin, a vessel built by French explorer La Salle. It sank in 1679.

La Salle's other ship, La Belle, was discovered in the mid-1990s off the Texas coast. With approval from France, state archaeologists there recovered nearly 1 million artifacts, from human bones to muskets, and publicly displayed many of them.

Great Lakes Exploration wants to be appointed custodian in the Michigan case. But the state is asking U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell to dismiss the lawsuit, saying it controls any shipwreck that is embedded and abandoned.

The precise location has not been publicly disclosed, but it's believed to be between Escanaba and the St. Martin Islands, near Wisconsin.

Divers working on Oct. 21-22 "found nothing ... that could possibly be the remnants of a 17th century sailing vessel, with the exception of one wooden timber," Reinwasser said.

In addition, an affidavit by state maritime archaeologist Wayne Lusardi was filed under seal.

An attorney for Great Lakes Exploration said divers from the group were not invited.

"There's not just a piece of wood there. The wreck was scattered over time," Rick Robol said Friday. "Their arguments are not new."

Reinwasser said federal law is clear: A shipwreck belongs to the state if the state shows it was abandoned and embedded in the lake bottom.

No one stepped forward after notices were published in The Grand Rapids Press and The Mining Journal in Marquette. But Robol said France has contacted the U.S. State Department about filing a claim.

He said La Salle was sailing under the authority of a king.

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