Gulf Shores company planning to recover shipwreck artifacts from Mobile Bay
last year’s oil spill and typical winter weather, explorers who discovered four shipwrecks near the mouth of Mobile Bay seven years ago plan to recover additional artifacts in the coming months, attorneys indicated last week.
A Gulf Shores company called Fathom Exploration filed a federal lawsuit in 2004 in an attempt to secure the four underwater spots.
The legal proceedings have been on hold since then while Fathom Exploration tries to analyze the artifacts. If the sites can be positively identified, a judge will decide who has rights to the artifacts — the state, the company or a Mobile man who believes one of the sites might be the 19th century clipper ship Robert H. Dixey. He is a descendent of the ship’s captain.
The parties file reports every three months updating the court on their progress. In the most recent report, attorneys stated that the BP oil spill in the summer curtailed Fathom’s offshore activities.
Weather and sea conditions also limited activity during the winter, the attorneys wrote.
“As we move deeper into the Spring and early Summer season, weather conditions typically improve and allow for the safe resumption of offshore work,” the joint statement read.
David Bagwell, an attorney for the descendants, said he is satisfied that the explorers are doing a professional job and are preserving the wreck sites.
“We may or may not have any fights, depending on what these ships are,” he said. “Nobody knows enough to try the lawsuit right now.”
Michael Mark, an attorney for Fathom Exploration, said in an email that his clients have been working diligently with the Alabama Historical Commission to identify the sites. He wrote that he has no idea how long the process could take.
“These cases have gone on for decades in other jurisdictions,” he wrote. “In our case we have a number to sites to identify.”
Mark wrote that Fathom is anxious to resume its work. Fathom plans to assess the impact of the oil spill and complete work that had been planned for 2010. This includes removing artifacts from two of the sites, and making dives and using remote sensors to determine the true nature of the “anomalous cluster” near the other two sites. Fathom divers might also collect artifacts from those other two spots.