The Department for Culture Media & Sport decided to impose restrictions under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 after being advised by Historic England (HE) that the site was at risk from souvenir-hunters and uncontrolled salvage. Only divers with an HE licence will now be allowed to visit the wreck.
The Arfon was built in 1908 in Goole, Yorkshire. The Royal Navy fitted her out as a minesweeper on the outbreak of war and she spent three years working out of Portland Harbour Naval Base to clear mines laid by U-boats along Dorset’s inshore shipping lanes. In April 1917 she struck a mine and sank rapidly off St Alban’s Head, with the loss of 10 of her 13 crew.
The Arfon is exceptionally well-preserved, says HE, with key features such as mine-sweeping gear, deck-gun, portholes and engine-room still intact.
Most WW1 wrecks around England’s coast have been salvaged for their fixtures and fittings but the Arfon had been untouched for almost a century when it was found two years ago by divers Martin and Bryan Jones, who run a family dive-charter business.
“We’re 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,” said Martin Jones.
“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,” said Joe Flatman, HE’s Head of Listing Programmes.
“Trawlers, minesweepers and other coastal patrol vessels played a crucial role in keeping the sea lanes around the British Isles open during both world wars, a part of the war effort that is often overlooked. The crews who served aboard such vessels faced tremendous dangers with unstinting bravery and devotion to duty.”