Salvage expert looks to sink police action

The owner of a sea salvage company is challenging the police's withdrawal of his explosives certificate, reports Roger Pearson. The rights of sea salvage companies to use explosives in their work are to form the basis for a High Court test case action.

The case is being brought by salvage expert Colin Martin, who is challenging the revocation by the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall of his explosives certificate. Martin has now been given leave to seek judicial review of the police action.

Martin heads a company called Hydrasalve UK, which has already invested more than £500,000 in salvaging an 18th-century ship called The Hanover. The ship sank off the Cornish coast in 1763.

At the time of its sinking The Hanover – a mail ship – was loaded with gold and cannon and Martin's company is seeking to raise as much as it can from the sea bed. It is thought that the cargo could be worth as much as £50m.

However, Martin, who, in addition to running Hydrasalve also established the Portreath Shipwreck Centre, says that if he is to carry on with the salvage work in respect of The Hanover, it is essential that his explosives certificate is returned.

He says that the costs for the project are running at £7,500 a day and that his company cannot survive financially if the job is not allowed to continue. So far he has already won an interim order from the High Court that he should be issued with a temporary licence to enable him to carry on his work.

But his solicitor, Sandra Rosignoli of Holman, Fenwick & Willan, says that the challenge to the police stance is to go on. She says that the police gave no reason for their decision to revoke the licence.

Rosignoli adds: "To step in and take something away as the police did here, even if there were legitimate grounds – which we dispute – and then give no reason for the action for weeks and weeks, leaves the person at the centre of the action caught between a rock and a hard place."

Wendy Outhwaite of 2 Harcourt Buildings has so far acted as counsel for Martin and will represent him when the case returns to court – although that is not likely to happen until next year.