Mosaic floor from Caligula’s ship returned to Italy

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  A collection of ancient Roman artifacts that included a mosaic from one of Caligula’s Lake Nemi pleasure ships was repatriated to Italy on Oct. 20, 2017, following a multiagency investigation, which included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations..

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

In September, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized a section of ancient mosaic flooring pursuant to a search warrant and an ongoing joint investigation into the trafficking of stolen antiquities. The marble flooring section, which dates back to 35 A.D., was originally part of an ornate ship commissioned by the Roman emperor Caligula at Lake Nemi. Following the emperor’s assassination, the ship sank and remained underwater for nearly 2,000 years, until it was excavated in the 1920s.

… The recovery was ordered by dictator Benito Mussolini, who had the lake drained …

In 1936, the Ships of Nemi Museum was completed to display the ships and the items excavated from them, including the sections of the inlaid mosaic marble floor. The Museum was later used as a bomb shelter during World War II and many of the original tiles were subsequently destroyed or damaged by fire, rendering the mosaic floor piece one of the only known, intact artifacts of its kind from the Ships of Nemi.

Earlier this year and as part of the same investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized a Paestan red-figure bell-krater, a wide, round wine vessel circa 360-350 B.C., from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as a Campanian red-figure fish-plate, circa 340-320 B.C., from a Christie’s auction.   

All the items were seized pursuant to judicially authorized warrants, but were thereafter forfeited willingly once the owners were presented with the evidence that each had been stolen from Italy.

No word on whether 2,000 years at the bottom of a lake and a World War II bombing cleaned all the Caligula-era party grime from the mosaic floor.

Also, ICE didn’t mention that the mosaic section had been found repurposed into a coffee table.


Lure of movie deal seals fate for alleged pirate

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BRUGES — Leave it to the Belgians to trap an alleged retired pirate lord with the lure of stardom.

Mohamed Abdi Hassan, also known as Afweyne, was implicated in the seizure of a number of commercial vessels, including the Belgian-flagged MV Pompei in 2009 and Ukrainian and Saudi ships in 2008 (one of  which was carrying a cargo of refurbished Soviet-era tanks).

Belgian authorities arrested Abdi Hassan earlier this month as he got off his flight in Brussels. Also detained was an alleged accomplice.

“These are significant arrests and the result of extremely hard and thorough work by Belgian authorities,” said Pierre St. Hilaire, head of Interpol’s Maritime Security unit, in a prepared statement.

Interpol had issued a “red notice” — basically an international all-points bulletin — for Abdi Hassan and other pirates as part of a response to maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia.

 “Interpol is ready to provide whatever support required by Belgium in their prosecution of these individuals, and also to other countries in their ongoing investigations into the organized crime networks behind maritime piracy,” St. Hilaire said.
 Abdi Hassan announced his retirement from the pirate world in January. The “hard and thorough work” involved in capturing him consisted of enticing him onto Belgian soil to ink a movie deal, according to media accounts. It was to be a film about the Somali piracy scene — think of it as “Captain Phillips” seen from the other side — and Abdi Hassan was promised role as a consultant.

St. Hilaire said the arrests should serve as a ‘warning shot across the bows’ for other maritime piracy suspects, especially the leaders and organizers of the piracy networks.

 On a related note, the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in July upheld the conviction of Mohammad Saaili Shibin for his role in the 2010 capture of the German Marid Marguerite and the American Quest in 2011. Below is a copy of the appeals ruling.

HMS Fowey part of US, UK preservation agreement

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HMS Fowey, Biscayne National Park from NPS Submerged Resources Center on Vimeo.

The remains of a 250-year-old British ship that fought France and Spain and was later at the heart of a modern maritime salvage law case is now being preserved under an international agreement between the United States and England.

Last month, the two countries entered into a memorandum of understanding on the HMS Fowey, a fifth-rate frigate that sank near what is now Miami after crashing into a coral reef in 1748.

“This is the latest step in the continuing preservation effort for Fowey, and solidifies our relationship with the British people in protecting our shared heritage for the enjoyment and education of future generations,” said Brian Carlstrom, superintendent of Biscayne National Park, where the Fowey wreckage is located underwater.

According to National Park Service officials, the agreement recognizes British title to the wreck and the intention of the U.S. park service to continue to care for the site in accordance with the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004 and the UNESCO convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage. The National Park Service and the British Navy will work together on caring for the site under the agreement.

Launched in 1744, HMS Fowey worked Europe around the English Channel and Gibraltar, battling French ships before it was reassigned to the Caribbean and waters off the New World’s east coast. It captured the Spanish ship St. Juan y Tadicos in June 1748 and was escorting the vessel and British merchant ships to Virginia when one of the merchant ships collided with the reef. In coming to the ship’s aid, the Fowey also got stuck on the reef.

The crew climbed aboard the surviving vessels and headed for Charleston, and the Spaniards were then sent to Havana.

And then nothing happened for some two centuries. Everyone forgot where the Fowey sank, the United States acquired Florida from Spain, and the state of Florida gave the area around the wreck to the federal government to turn it into a park.

Then in 1978, Gerald Klein found the what was left of the Fowey while diving with friends (it wasn’t identified as the Fowey until years later). He applied for salvage title in Admiralty Court in 1979, but the U.S. government stepped in to challenge Klein’s claim. The court sided with the government, finding that the wreckage was historically significant and embedded in the land, which was a national park.

“It is without question that Congress had the power to exercise dominion and control over the wreck, and the statutory evidence is overwhelming that it had the intent. It is clear that the United States was in constructive possession of the wreck at the time the plaintiff discovered it embedded in public land,” the ruling states.

Today, the site is closed to the public. The ship does have a Facebook page, and the park has a website .

Above is a video tour of what’s left of the Fowey, produced by the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center.