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Friday, 24 August, 2001, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Monument status for German wrecks
Kronprinz Wilhelm
The Kronprinz Wilhelm lies in Scapa Flow
Seven sunken German warships in Scottish waters have been declared "monuments of national importance".

Historic Scotland said ministers have agreed to give the wrecks, which were scuttled by their crews off Orkney in June 1919, legal protection.

The sunken fleet at Scapa Flow had previously been covered by shipwreck legislation, which required divers to have a permit before they visited the wrecks.

But under the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Areas Act of 1979 a permit will not be needed provided that the wrecks are not disturbed or damaged.

Scuba divers
Divers no longer need permits
The seven sunken German battleships and cruisers are all that remain of Germany's high seas fleet at the end of the First World War.

The fleet was disarmed and ordered into Scapa Flow with skeleton crews for internment after the allied nations and Germany signed the armistice in 1918.

All 74 ships stayed there for 10 months before they were scuttled on Saturday 21 June.

Fleet commander Ludwig von Reuter ordered what was later called "the greatest act of maritime suicide in history" to stop the ships falling into British hands.

The battleship Friedrich der Grosse was the first to sink and went below the surface at 1216 BST.

Commercially salvaged

By 1700 BST, as the last ship, the Hindenberg, went under, the surface of Scapa Flow was covered in oil and debris.

In the immediate aftermath, the British Navy managed to save some of the ships by towing them close to shore.

Others were commercially salvaged over the years leaving just seven wrecks for curious divers to inspect.

Now the three battleships - Konig, Kronprinz Wilhelm and Markgraf - and four light cruisers - Brummer, Dresden, Karlsruhe and Koln - have been classified as "monuments of national importance".

A Historic Scotland spokesman said: "Divers are legally bound to treat the wrecks with the same care and respect as anyone visiting a land-based scheduled monument."

See also:

29 Aug 01 | Scotland
Wartime shipwrecks are surveyed
19 Feb 01 | Scotland
Shipping boost for Scapa Flow
14 Oct 00 | Scotland
Ashes placed in battleship grave
13 Oct 00 | Scotland
Leaking battleship to be drained
10 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Defence cash shortfall fear
10 Nov 99 | UK
Navy 'facing warship gap'
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