Halting Theft on the 'Ghost Fleet'

A GERMAN scuba diver pulled himself out of the water and hid something in his bag on the ship.But the German's movements aroused the suspicions of a local dive guide. As the foreign diver departed for his second dive, the guide searched his bag and found a Japanese rice bowl and lid. It was yet another theft from the Ghost Fleet, a collection of 60 wrecks resting at the bottom of Truk Lagoon. The ships are the main reason tourists come to Chuuk (formerly called Truk). The ships are an underwater museum with parts of the boats in nearly the same condition as Feb. 16, 1944, the day the Japanese fleet was surprised and sunk by American planes. The Chuukese have passed laws against stealing from the wrecks. Divers sign an agreement not to remove anything from the water. The penalty is a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. There is, however, little enforcement of such agreements. ve been here nine months and I've never seen anyone checking up. Things are disappearing," says Earl Meador, captain of the Truk Aggressor, a boat that takes divers on overnight dive trips around the atoll. Clark Graham, the owner of Micronesia Aquatics, says he tries to educate divers about the historic nature of the site. "This is the most pristine site of World War II," he says. Mr. Graham participated in a National Park Service video that deals with protecting historic sites, including the problem of theft. But most of the offenders get away with the theft. "We've reported several people, but we're not there to hit people over the head," Mr. Graham says. Local businessman Ray Lomongo worries that some divers will strip the wrecks of artifacts, which are the attraction. "Then we won't have anybody coming to Chuuk," says Mr. Lomongo, an active member of the visitor's bureau. The German diver was never charged with stealing. After several local people called the police, the German and his colleague were called into the police station and asked to return any items taken from the wreck. Dive guides placed the items back on the Ghost Fleet.

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