Judge dismisses counterclaim in Hunley lawsuit

5/18/2007 • News

Underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence claimed he suffered as much as $309 million in damages because the discovery was credited to author Clive Cussler.

A group headed by Cussler initially sued Spence six years ago.

That suit alleges that Spence’s continuing claim he found the sub injured the reputation of Cussler’s National Underwater & Marine Agency and the divers Cussler hired.

The South Carolina Hunley Commission has credited the agency and the divers with finding the sub off Charleston 12 years ago.

Spence countersued in 2002, asking the court to declare him the finder.

But Senior U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt Jr. dismissed the countersuit this week saying the three-year statute of limitations on admiralty claims had expired.

Spence’s attorney, Ronnie Richter, argued the period started when the coordinates of the Hunley were published by the state in 2000.

But Blatt ruled it should have started in 1995, the day Cussler and his team announced the discovery. Spence has argued one of the divers then said the sub was where Spence said it was.

Justice was done in dismissing the counterclaim, said Ric Tapp, an attorney for Cussler’s agency.

"I did not lose on the merits of the discovery claim. My case was thrown out on a legal technicality," Spence wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

"My only real defense is that I spoke the truth. I found the Hunley," he wrote, adding the jury will hear all the facts. "They will decide who is telling the truth."

The 40-foot, hand-cranked Hunley rammed a spar with a black powder charge into the Union blockade ship Housatonic sinking the vessel on Feb. 17, 1864.

The sub sank as well and was finally located in 1995. It was raised five years later and brought to a conservation lab at the old Charleston Naval Base.

Copyright 2007. The Associated Press.