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Deciding legal tug of war over shipwreck ; Judge sides with state that it remain sunk

A federal judge has sided with attorneys for the state in a dispute over the ownership of a 19th century sailing ship sunk in Lake Erie near Dunkirk.

In a recent decision, U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio said he agreed with the state's position that it owns the ship under the U.S. Abandoned Shipwreck Act.

The two-masted wooden sailing ship may have been used by the British during the War of 1812 and later may have had a role in the Underground Railroad, transporting escaped slaves from the United States to Canada, Foschio said in court papers.

Since 2004, officials of Northeast Research, a private company that specializes in searching for shipwrecks, have been seeking ownership of the vessel, which they want to raise from the lake's depths and put on display on Buffalo's waterfront.

But historic preservation officials in state government contend that the ship is better off where it is, in a deep pocket of the lake about 20 miles from Dunkirk.

State officials also contend that divers working for Northeast Research damaged the ship and mishandled human remains on the ship during a dive to examine the vessel in 2004.

Efforts to reach the owners and the attorneys for Northeast Research were unsuccessful late Wednesday.

Foschio's 30-page decision is considered a "report and recommendation" in federal court and is subject to review by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.


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