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MOYER v. WRECKED & ABANDONED VESSEL

November 18, 1993

JOHN F. MOYER, Plaintiff,
v.
THE WRECKED AND ABANDONED VESSEL, known as The ANDREA DORIA, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ

 Plaintiff requests a preliminary injunction in order to find and salvage certain contents of the vessel known as The ANDREA DORIA.

 It is a case of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction stating a maritime claim within the meaning of Rule 9(h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court has subject matter jurisdiction of this case pursuant to the United States Constitution, Article III, Section 2, Clause 1, and 28 U.S.C. § 1333. For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's motion is granted.

 I. FINDINGS OF FACT

 1. The defendant vessel, ANDREA DORIA, sank on July 26, 1956, eleven hours after its infamous collision with the Swedish liner STOCKHOLM, in international waters approximately 200 miles due east of Sandy Hook, New Jersey and 50 miles south of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

 2. The plaintiff, John F. Moyer of Vineland, New Jersey, is a resident of this district and an experienced ANDREA DORIA diver who has made 56 dives to the defendant shipwreck. He has salvaged hundreds of objects from the wreck, including porcelain, crystal glassware, and brass portholes. In 1985, he assisted in the recovery of a bronze bell from the ship's stern steering station. Moreover, Moyer has accumulated a considerable archive of information and expertise on the ANDREA DORIA, through both extensive correspondence with surviving crew members and his own personal research.

 3. On August 13, 1993, this court held a hearing on plaintiff's claim at which Gary Gentile of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania testified. Gentile is an expert and author on maritime history, shipwreck diving and underwater photography. Gentile has made 116 dives on the ANDREA DORIA and has also written an authoritative history of the ANDREA DORIA since its sinking. Gentile's book ANDREA DORIA; DIVE TO AN ERA (Gary Gentile Productions 1989); Gary Gentile, (Pl.'s Ex 1.) details the history of the ANDREA DORIA salvage schemes, the recovery of portions of the vessel's contents, and the recreational exploration and salvage of the sunken luxury liner. Gentile testified that the ANDREA DORIA is considered to be one of the most difficult and challenging shipwrecks for scuba diving exploration and salvage. Obstacles to diving on the wreck include its great depth (requiring lengthy in-water decompression), strong currents, the danger of entanglement with nets and wreck debris, and poor underwater visibility. Divers also experience disorientation from narcosis caused by the depth and from penetrating and exploring a massive shipwreck lying on its side.

 4. Because the ANDREA DORIA is located in seas subject to frequently violent weather, viable salvage operations may be conducted on the shipwreck only during the summer, from mid-June to about mid-August.

 5. The location of the shipwreck is well known and has been thoroughly documented. The ship's sinking was recorded in a series of Pulitzer-prize winning photographs taken by Harry Trask of the Boston Traveler. The day after the ship's sinking, Peter Gimbel and Joseph Fox became the first divers to descend to the shipwreck and take photographs of the liner lying in 240 feet of cold Atlantic water. (Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 57-58.)

 6. Before she sank, the ANDREA DORIA was owned by the Italia Lines, a government-subsidized commercial passenger line. Insurance on the loss of the vessel was paid by the Italian insurance conglomerate, Societa D'Assicurazione, which thereby acquired title to the shipwreck by right of subrogation. (Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 24.)

 7. Numerous schemes to raise the ANDREA DORIA were unsuccessfully floated shortly after the liner's sinking:

 
The Societa entertained more than a hundred offers for the salvage of the liner, but accepted none. Most would-be salvors wanted to share the cost of salvage. The Societa would not even approve the standard "no cure, no pay" agreement: it wanted cold, hard cash, no future involvement, and no liability. There were no such takers. . . .

 (Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 24.)

 9. Recreational scuba divers have visited the ANDREA DORIA since approximately 1966. (Pl.'s Ex. at 42-44.) Gentile testified that beginning in the early 1980s, several charter vessels carrying recreational divers have visited the ANDREA DORIA on an annual basis. These scuba divers have collectively salvaged thousands of objects from inside the sunken luxury liner, including porcelain dishes, crystal glassware, silver cutlery, brass portholes, ecclesiastical items, fresco paints, jewelry and shipboard trinkets, navigational equipment and the ship's stern bell. No challenge has ever been made to the divers' right of possession or ownership of the objects which they have recovered.

 10. Several years ago, the plaintiff, John F. Moyer, began planning an expedition to recover the ANDREA DORIA'S primary bell from the bow of the shipwreck. Moyer also intended to recover Italian mosaic friezes from the first-class "Wintergarden" lounge that was located in the forward portion of the shipwreck. In 1992, plaintiff chartered the Research Vessel WAHOO in order to bring the expedition to the DORIA, to place the shipwreck under admiralty arrest, and to commence salvage operations in the bow area.

 11. By order dated June 10, 1993, the court issued a warrant to the United States Marshals to arrest the vessel in rem.

 12. On June 24, 1993, the plaintiff placed a copy of the court's June 10th admiralty arrest in a sealed plastic canister and attached it by cable to the ANDREA DORIA in the immediate vicinity of his salvage operations. In addition, the plaintiff's attorney sent a letter and copy of the arrest papers to each of the charter vessel ...


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