DNR officers recover artifacts stolen from shipwreck near Traverse City

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers have recovered stolen artifacts from a historical shipwreck after receiving a tip from recreational divers.

In September, the DNR Law Enforcement Division’s Great Lakes Enforcement Unit was notified that people were stealing internal framework – referred to as “ribbing” – from the Metropolis, a shipwreck north of Traverse City.

Metropolis is a 125-foot schooner located offshore of Old Mission Point in the East Grand Traverse Bay, which is part of Lake Michigan. The ship was abandoned after becoming lost in a snowstorm in November 1886. The remains of the Metropolis are divided in two portions, one located in 8 feet of water and the other at a depth of 120 feet. The site is part of the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve.

Michigan’s Great Lakes are home to 1,500 shipwrecks and 14 underwater preserves, including Isle Royale, which provide recreational diving opportunities. It is illegal to remove anything from underwater shipwrecks.

“Shipwrecks are irreplaceable resources. They cannot be regenerated,” said Wayne Lusardi, a state maritime archaeologist with DNR’s Michigan History Center. “Unlike any other place in the world, Michigan’s fresh water allows for shipwrecks and other historical resources to be uniquely preserved.”

The two divers were able to provide conservation officers with photographs of the individuals removing the ribbing, the suspect’s boat registration and a license plate number from the vehicle located at the launch site. Conservation Officer Sean Kehoe was able to use the evidence from the divers to quickly locate and interview the two suspects.

Jacob Garris, 27, from Traverse City, and Joseph Frawley, 28, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., confessed to taking the ribbing and cooperated to return the stolen items to Kehoe.

Garris and Frawley were charged last month in the Grand Traverse County 86th District Court for the removal of antiquities from state-owned bottomlands. Both will serve 20 hours of community service and were fined $1,025 in fines and costs and $1,450 in restitution; they will serve 30 days of jail if they do not meet their requirements. The restitution will go toward shipwreck protection and education.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve.

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