Severe Weather Maine

Raging surf hits Otter Point in Acadia National Park as severe weather associated with storm Lee pounded the region in September. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

The state of Maine says that it’s the rightful owner of a mysterious sunken ship off the coast of Bar Harbor that a private company is seeking to salvage.

Attorneys for the Maine State Museum filed a “statement of right or interest” in the vessel Tuesday, about a month after JJM, a Southwest Harbor LLC, first asked a federal judge for permission to salvage the boat.

JJM has said the ship is the same as thousands of other schooners that sailed Maine’s coast in the 1800s, making it nothing special to the state.

“It’s like finding a pickup truck in the woods, full of cordwood,” their lawyer, Benjamin Ford, said on Wednesday.

In its motion, the state argues that the ship belongs to Maine because it’s covered by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and might be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The state has never granted permission of authority to JJM, LLC, nor, so far as is known, to any other person or entity, to disturb or take custody of such property,” the filing states.


It’s unclear whether the state would eventually be willing to transfer ownership, or if the state has any plans for the ship itself. The state’s brief motion filed this week offers no further details about the vessel.

The museum’s director did not respond to a message to discuss the ship and their interest. A spokesperson for the Office of the Maine Attorney General, which is representing the museum, said they don’t comment on pending litigation.

The nameless wreck is believed to have been a two-masted ship with a wooden hull, about 100 feet long and 20 to 30 feet high, that was carrying granite pavers, according to court records filed by JJM.

The company sent a scuba diver to explore the wreckage in November. That diver said in court records that he found the ship sitting about elbow-deep in the mud, but loose enough that he was able to remove artifacts without tools. That included a 28-inch plank of wood with holes drilled into it, a piece of the ship and a stone paver from the ship’s cargo.

In early April, the federal court took those artifacts into federal custody to hold onto while determining who has ownership.

Ford said Wednesday that JJM is not troubled by the state’s filing. He considered it procedural and said that JJM looks forward to “working with the state” on excavating the ship.

“It’s the state’s job to make sure that any kind of wreck is taken seriously and that the historical and archaeological value of things in the state are protected and respected, and we honor that,” Ford said. “And we think we can do this in a way that respects the state’s interest … (and) the people of Maine’s interest.”

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