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Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 17:37 GMT 18:37 UK
Rival claims over wartime wreck
HMS Exmouth
HMS Exmouth sank during the Second World War
By BBC News Online Scotland's Graeme Esson

Two rival diving teams have laid claim to the discovery of a Second World War destroyer.

A relative of one of the 189 crew members who died when HMS Exmouth was sunk more than 50 years ago said he found its wreck.

But Stewart McDermott's claim came a month after the Ministry of Defence confirmed a report by the European Technical Dive Centre, based at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Isles, that it had found the vessel.

Diver Bill Ruck measures a gun (picture copyright Mark Brill)
Diver Bill Ruck was part of Mr McDermott's team
Mr McDermott's great-uncle was among the victims when the Second World War destroyer was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Wick, Caithness.

The 32-year-old, from London, took up diving in an attempt to locate the vessel and pay his respects to his relative, Robert Nash.

And on Thursday he presented his video evidence at London's Imperial War Museum.

Mr McDermott told BBC Scotland News Online that he became certain that the vessel he had located was the Exmouth towards the end of June when divers shot 15 minutes of video footage on the wreck.

"That evidence has been ratified by our independent marine archaeologist because we wanted to be sure," he said.

There is no sense of elation or triumph

Stewart McDermott
The team found the bow and bridge section first and identified the wreck, which is one of about 70 in the area, by its distinctive portholes and the diameter of its gun.

Freelance marine archaeologist Neil Dobson, from St Andrews, confirmed: "It is definitely the Exmouth."

Mr McDermott said it had been a "bittersweet" feeling to find the wreck.

"It was a strange feeling, it is difficult to put into words. There is no sense of elation or triumph," he said.

Mr McDermott hopes to make contact with as many relatives as possible so that he can add biographies of those who died to his website and organise a memorial service in their honour.

However, he said he did not know whether the wreck he has identified as the Exmouth was the same as that pinpointed by the other team.

Robert Nash
Robert Nash was one of the crewmen who lost their lives
He said they had not contacted him to say they had found the wreck, adding: "The video evidence shown on television, as far as I am concerned, did not clearly identify the Exmouth."

However, Mark Reeves of the European Technical Dive Centre thought both teams were talking about the same wreck.

And he said he was in no doubt that his team had found the vessel first.

He said he had started work on the project almost four years ago on behalf of one of the relatives and now had 60 relatives behind his project.

"I did all the work and our researchers did all the work," said Mr Reeves.

The MoD would be happy to speak to Mr McDermott about his research efforts and findings

MoD spokeswoman
He said the credit should go to researchers Kevin Heath and Bob Baird.

Mr Reeves said he had 200 minutes of video evidence to prove that the wreck was the Exmouth.

And he said there was also evidence from shell cases and the serial number on the vessel's steering helm which showed that it was the Exmouth.

An MoD spokeswoman said on Thursday that no doubts had been raised about the European Technical Dive Centre's findings.

"The MoD would be happy to speak to Mr McDermott about his research efforts and findings," she said.

Wartime defences

Mr McDermott said he would now be presenting that evidence, which is available on his website, to the MoD.

The Exmouth sank with the loss of all its crew as it was escorting the Cyprian Prince, a merchant vessel loaded with supplies for building wartime defences, from Aberdeen to Scapa Flow on 21 January, 1940.

The bodies of 15 crew members were washed ashore a week later.

They were buried at a mass grave in Wick, but they were not individually identified.

BBC Scotland's John Johnston reports
"The Royal Navy plans to hold a commemorative service in Wick""
See also:

27 Jun 01 | Scotland
Divers find destroyer wreck
26 Jun 01 | Scotland
Families welcome tragic boat moves
15 Jun 01 | Scotland
Bringing history to the surface
14 Feb 01 | Scotland
Plans to protect sea graves
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