Explorer given OK to indentify Lake Michigan shipwreckAfter more than six years of wrangling over who has the legal rights to explore a mysterious shipwreck, the state of Michigan and an underwater explorer have reached an agreement that will allow him to finally find out whether the wreck he found in Lake Michigan is really the Griffin, the first sailing ship on the Great Lakes.
By: By: Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki, Detroit Free Press , Superior Telegram
DETROIT — After more than six years of wrangling over who has the legal rights to explore a mysterious shipwreck, the state of Michigan and an underwater explorer have reached an agreement that will allow him to finally find out whether the wreck he found in Lake Michigan is really the Griffin, the first sailing ship on the Great Lakes.
Virginian Steve Libert, who also owns a home in Charlevoix, Mich., said he believes he has found the Griffin (sometimes referred to by its French spelling, Griffon), what many call the Holy Grail of Great Lakes shipwrecks.
This week, both sides reached an agreement in federal court to halt any further litigation, allowing the shipwreck hunter to proceed.
Libert said he is overjoyed.
“It’s been years — six years, two months and three days” of court battles, he said Friday.
Work to determine the true identity of the wreck has been stalled for years by legal wrangling. Now he has regular deadlines to report any new findings.
The ship disappeared in 1679 on its maiden voyage, after the French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle built the vessel and sent it back down the lakes, laden with furs that were supposed to help fund his expedition. La Salle went on to claim the Mississippi Valley for France.
Libert has been in court ever since he told the state he believed he found the Griffin and suggested the two sides work together to confirm it was the legendary ship. Michigan claims everything on the Great Lakes bottoms within the state’s borders; said state officials, not Libert, should explore the wreck; and expressed doubt that the find was really the Griffin.
The only problem was state officials needed Libert to tell them where to look. Libert steadfastly refused, and the two sides ended up in a lengthy legal deadlock. The precise site is believed to be between Escanaba, Mich., and St. Martin Island.
Three lower courts ruled in Libert’s favor, but the legal maneuvering with the state continued. The two sides were close to an agreement about a year ago, Libert said, but negotiations broke down.
Libert even brought France into the battle. Because the Griffin sailed under the French flag, France has laid claim to the wreck — allowable under international law if indeed it turns out to be the Griffin.
Carbon dating of wood brought up from the wreck in 2006 has placed it in the right age range. But Libert and experts are a long way from the end of their quest.
Libert said the next step is for scientists to take underwater images to see, for example, if King Louis XIV’s insignia is on a cannon. That would be a critical piece of evidence because La Salle, the explorer who built the ship, was sailing for the king in 1679.
The first report with any findings is due by Dec. 15. If the wreck is the Griffin, Libert’s Great Lakes Exploration Group would have exclusive, five-year rights to use project data for commercial purposes, including books, videos, films and audio recordings. Libert has said he would turn the wreck over to the state and museums.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.