Untouched British WWI minesweeper now protected from looters

Discovered off the Dorset coast, England in 2014 after spending a century undiscovered, a rare steam fishing trawler fitted out as a mine sweeper for the Royal Navy during the First World War has been given special protection by British authorities.

On the advice of Historic England, the Department for Culture Media and Sport protected the HMS Arfon under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, which means that access to the site is restricted only to divers who have been granted a licence from Historic England.

The ship is exceptionally well preserved with the trawler’s key features such as its mine-sweeping gear, deck gun, portholes and engine room still intact on the seabed off St Alban’s Head.

The Arfon was built in 1908 in Goole, East Riding of Yorkshire. It worked out of Portland Harbour Naval Base during the First World War, sweeping mines laid by German U-boats along the inshore shipping lanes off the Dorset coast for three years before striking a mine in April 1917 and rapidly sinking with the loss of 10 of the crew of 13.

Most of the wrecks around England’s coast that date from this period have been salvaged for their fixtures and fittings. The Arfon is unique in that it had been untouched for 100 years, until it was first dived in 2014. It is considered to be vulnerable to souvenir hunters and uncontrolled salvage.

Photo: Historic England
Photo: Historic England

Joe Flatman, Head of Listing Programmes at Historic England said: “The Arfon shipwreck is a rare survivor of a type of vessel once very common around the coastline of Britain but which has now entirely disappeared, surviving only in documents and as wrecks like this one.’’

Martin Jones, dive charter business owner who discovered the wreck, said: “We are delighted to be working with Historic England to protect and investigate the Arfon and we’re planning a special commemoration to mark the centenary of its sinking next April.”