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Friday, 19 July, 2002, 18:07 GMT 19:07 UK
Britain guards shipwreck of old enemy
The tale of a humiliating defeat for the British Navy in 1779 has been resurrected this week, with the UK securing rights to guard the wreck of its old US adversity.

Emergency action has been taken to protect the wreck of what is thought to be the sunken American warship the Bonhomme Richard - which lies beneath the sea off the coast of Yorkshire.

The vessel is thought to be the first in the US navy and its skipper is hailed as a hero across the Atlantic.


I am thrilled that you are honouring our guy ... he was fighting against you for our freedom

Tom Reid, Washington Post

But UK officials sprung into action after being tipped off that a team of divers - thought to be American - were going to try to resurrect the wreck this week.

Amusement

The protection order has been placed, on the orders of arts minister Baroness Blackstone, to prevent the ship being plundered by souvenir hunters.

News that the British were "burying the hatchet" to safeguard the ship, has brought some amusement to their former "enemy".

US journalist Tom Reid, of the Washington Post, told the BBC's Today programme on Friday he was "thrilled" the British were honouring their hero, the captain John Paul Jones.

Jones become a national hero in the United states after winning the 18th century battle, and today is regarded as the "father of the US Navy".

'Fighter'

But the sailor has a disputed reputation, with the British dismissing him as a pirate.

Mr Reid said: "John Paul Jones was fantastic he founded our navy, he was the first big leader of the navy.

"I am thrilled that you are honouring our guy. He sunk at least 40 ships of war.


With the ship in flames, sailors dying over the sides, John Paul Jones immortally said 'Sir, I have not yet begun to fight'

Tom Reid

"He was fighting against you for our freedom."

Mr Reid admitted that Jones had first landed in Britain to raid, but he defended him against allegations of piracy.

"He was a fighter, a patriot.

"He was fighting for a new nation and an idea of freedom and independence - what's pirate about that?," he asked.

Retelling the famous battle in 1779 between the Bonhomme and a superior British squadron on the battleship Serapis, he said:

"A marvellous thing happened.

"The Serapis fired first and Jones was asked 'Do you surrender?'

"With the ship in flames, sailors dying over the sides, John Paul Jones immortally said 'Sir, I have not yet begun to fight'."

The American went on to win the battle and raised the stars and stripes over the British ship.

'Urgent'

But victory was short-lived for the Bonhomme, which sank in the seas off Yorkshire.

Baroness Blackstone said the protection order was thought to be "vitally urgent" to protect the wreck.

Speaking on the Today programme, Tony Green of the Filey Under Water Research Unit, said the wreck was heavily silted with a large amount under sediment.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport said the protection order would be reviewed before the end of the year.

Meanwhile investigations would be carried out to decide whether the ship should be permanently designated as an historic wreck.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Tom Reid, of the Washington Post
"I'm thrilled that you're honouring our guy"
See also:

03 Nov 01 | Americas
16 Jun 01 | Media reports
16 Apr 01 | UK
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