The group charged with preserving the state’s history is looking to protect the wreckage of the last slave ship in America through legal action.
The Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) has filed an admiralty claim in federal court in Mobile over the Clotilda, which was positively identified earlier this year. The claim made in federal court, which has jurisdiction over maritime issues, is meant to help preserve the shipwreck, AHC spokeswoman Andi Martin wrote in an email message.
“When significant historical shipwrecks are located, it is common practice to seek the federal court’s assistance to preserve and protect the vessel,” she wrote. “This allows critical issues to be addressed in one forum in an organized fashion. The federal court has the authority to issue all necessary and appropriate orders so that work on the site and further preservation efforts can continue without delay.”
The claim adds “layers of protection,” including protection from “salvagers” and it will help ensure the return of artifacts, Martin wrote. Admiralty claims have protected other historic shipwrecks in the past, including the Titanic and the Atocha, which sank off the Florida Keys in 1622, an AHC statement reads.
Once a claim is filed, any parties who may claim ownership are asked to come forward immediately. A public notice will be published for three weeks. This then leads to an open forum through the court so that all vested entities have a voice and can be heard in an orderly fashion. The court’s proceedings are a matter of public record, therefore all interested parties have access and can see what’s being done. The result is to ensure that the Clotilda remains a publicly-owned resource of the state, according to the statement.
“The careful considerations for the protection, preservation and interpretation of the Clotilda have been entirely methodical and strategic,” AHC executive director Lisa D. Jones said in a statement. “We are charged with ensuring this tremendously important archaeological find is preserved and protected for Africatown and our nation. It carries a story and an obligation to meet every opportunity to plan for its safeguarding. AHC is laying the groundwork for ongoing efforts to not only ensure the Clotilda’s immediate assessment, but to also establish pathways for its longevity.”
The filing has been in the works since the announcement in May confirming the identity of the shipwreck, Martin wrote. AHC has contracted with Mobile Burr & Forman and Attorney General Steve Marshall deputized firm partner John Kavanaugh to act on behalf of the agency, she wrote.
AHC is partnering very closely with federal, state, and local officials and agencies throughout these processes and phases.
“By preserving the Clotilda, Alabama has the opportunity to preserve a piece of history. It is a prime example of an artifact that deserves our respect and remembrance,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “The Clotilda is very much a part of the story of the descendants and residents of Africatown, making it a significant part of the rich history of our entire state. Protecting this resource is imperative, and I look forward to Alabama taking on this important responsibility.”
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