Specialist divers, undertaking a routine inspection of the historic SS Alert shipwreck, have been surprised to discover that the small iron steamer wreck has been pillaged.

Heritage Victoria Executive Director Steven Avery said it’s very disappointing to see such a unique and important part of Victoria’s maritime history plundered for personal gain.

“Lost at sea in 1893, the SS Alert is one of the worst maritime wrecks in Victorian history with only one of the sixteen crew surviving the wreck,” said Mr Avery.

“Items including navigation lights, bottles, plates and a lamp shade have been stolen.

“The shipwreck was lost for over 110 years until it was eventually discovered in 2007 near Cape Schanck, and a Protected Zone was put in place.

“When discovered, the ship still contained the crew’ personal effects, enabling an understanding of life at sea on an 1800s coastal trading vessel.

“With the shipwreck located at a depth of 80 metres, the removal of these valuable artefacts could have only been carried out by specialist divers trained in technical diving.

“Of the 600 historic shipwrecks in Victoria, only nine are in Protected Zones. The remaining wrecks can be explored so long as they community don’t damage or disturb the wrecks or remove artefacts.”

Built in Scotland in 1877, the SS Alert was a small iron steamer primarily used in Port Phillip Bay to run general cargo between Melbourne and Geelong.

The purpose-built steamer foundered at sea during a storm on 28 December 1893 while returning to Melbourne from Lakes Entrance carrying a cargo of wattle bark.

Routine inspections of the site have been carried out by the Maritime Archaeology Association of Victoria and Southern Ocean Exploration since the wreck’s discovery on 3 June 2007.

As a wreck off the Australian coastline, a 500-metre radius Commonwealth Protected Zone was declared around the wreck on 23 July 2007 to protecting the fragile archaeological site.

Heritage Victoria is working with the Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy to investigate the breach of the Protected Zone and looting.

Under the Commonwealth Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 it is an offence to damage the shipwreck or to enter the Protected Zone without a permit. Penalties of up to $168,000 or 5 years imprisonment apply.

Anyone with information of the looting or the whereabout of the stolen artefacts is encouraged to contact the Heritage Victoria on 03 9938 6894 or at heritage.victoria@delwp.vic.gov.au.

Page last updated: 23/07/19

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