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Hunt for wreck which claimed 800 lives

A new maritime archaeology company based at the Scottish Institute of Maritime Studies at the University of St Andrews is to play a key role in a diving expedition aimed at locating the wreck of a ship which was carrying nearly 800 Jewish refugees when it sank in the Black Sea in 1942.

Forty-four year old Neil Dobson, marine archaeologist and co-founding director of Connect Archaeology Limited, has volunteered to join the 15-strong team of divers who will be led by Greg Buxton, whose grandparents were among those who died.

The expertise of Connect Archaeology Limited will allow the team to help locate and positively identify the wreck, make a video survey and, if possible, recover artefacts. As well as carrying out the archaeology, Neil, who graduated from St Andrews with a Masters degree in maritime archaeology, and who was the UK’s first freefall lifeboat instructor, will be operating the onboard recompression chamber, operating the survey vessel’s RIB (rigid inflatable boat) and, if required, piloting the project’s ROV (remote operated vehicle).

The United States Holocaust Museum in Washington is supporting the project and will be producing a permanent exhibit from the photographs, video and artefacts found.

Escaping the massacres in 1941, nearly 800 Romanian and Russian Jews embarked on The Struma in Constansa on a 45 metre vessel bound for Palestine. She limped to Istanbul over three days where her tiny engine finally gave up. The British refused to grant permission for them to enter Palestine and the Turks would not let them repair the engine, disembark or remain in Turkey. With only the food and water supplied by the local Jewish community and no sanitary facilities, conditions on the unbearably cramped ship rapidly deteriorated.

On the evening of 23 February 1942, Turkish police seized control of the ship and towed it out into the Black Sea. With no engine, she drifted overnight and, at first light, a Russian submarine sank her with a single torpedo. Many of the passengers died instantly but around 150 were left floating in the cold water. Over the next day, all of the remaining survivors died from hypothermia, apart from one young man, David Stoliar, who miraculously stayed alive for almost two days. He was eventually picked up by a rowing boat sent from a nearby lighthouse and taken to Istanbul. A total of 103 children, 269 women and 406 men died on the Struma.

In 1998, while returning from an expedition to dive the Britannic (sister ship of the Titanic), Greg Buxton began to realise his desire to visit the last resting place of his grandparents. He started to piece together the historical information and found the log of the Russian submarine which sunk the ship. While it did not say why they torpedoed the vessel, it gave the position of the Struma, a good basis to start the search for the wreck. These logs, combined with information from German historian Jurgen Rowher as well as Black Sea fishermen, revealed that the wreck will be lying in around 70 to 90 metres of water.

Speaking of the expedition, Mr Buxton said, “It’s something that I have been thinking about over the years and I would really like the chance to lay some ghosts to rest – to visit my grandparents grave, if you like.” Meanwhile, Neil Dobson believes the project will be a fantastic experience and a real challenge – “The story of the Struma and its passengers is very interesting and is another chapter in the plight of the Jews during World War Two. Conducting archaeology at depths of 60 to 90 metres will certainly be challenging. It’s also very rewarding to work with a highly skilled and dedicated group of technical divers.”

During his journey to discover the wreck of The Struma, Greg Buxton has made contact with many relatives and others associated with the tragedy. Most significantly, the sole survivor David Stoliar is still alive and living in the US. It is hoped that the expedition will culminate with a ceremony at the wreck site at the end of August. David Stoliar will attend along with a number of relatives of victims and representatives of various governments. Greg Buxton will lay a commemorative plaque on the wreck, which will be relayed via ROV back to the ceremony on the boat.

The expedition will also be the focus of a documentary by Yorkshire/Associated producers, which will be shown on Channel 4’s Secret History series and throughout the US.

Connect Archaeology Limited is one of the UK’s most progressive and innovative contract archaeology companies because of its ability to undertake archaeological projects both on land and under the sea. Connect Archaeology’s business plan was a recent prize-winner in the St Andrews Enterprise 2000 competition run in conjunction with Fife Enterprise (now Scottish Enterprise Fife). The company is now moving through its development phase, building on the partners’ 40 years of experience and successes working in the fields of coastal, land and underwater archaeology. As well as assisting underwater archaeological projects such as the Struma project, the company offers the following expert services to planning departments, developers, heritage agencies and environmental consultancies.

· Archaeological Desk-based Assessments, Watching Briefs and Field Evaluations · Full Survey and Excavation on Land and Underwater · Diving Services and ROV operations · Survival and Safety Training · Maritime Historical Research · Sites and Monuments Record Development and Environmental Shoreline Management Plans · Interpretation Plans for Coastal and Underwater Archaeological Sites

NOTE TO EDITORS

Further information can be obtained via website http://www.struma.net.

A range of high resolution images can be downloaded at http://www.struma.net/images.html.

Neil Dobson can be contacted, up until 12 August 2000, on telephone 01334 477171, 0794 118 0707 or email neil@connectarchaeology.com.

Connect Archaeology Limited website can be found at http://www.st-and.ac.uk/institutes/sims/connect.htm.

Greg Buxton can be contacted on telephone 07803 723545 or email greg@struma.net.

Should you wish to contact David Stoliar, please liaise with Mark Brill on telephone 020 7226 1256 or email mark@formatie.com.

Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email cg24@st-andrews.ac.uk Ref: struma/standrews/chg/7august200

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