Virginia Man Battles Michigan Over French Ship

By Kari Lydersen
July 23, 2006
- The Washington Post

If the shipwreck on the floor of Lake Michigan is indeed the Griffon, a French fur-trading ship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1679, it may contain archaeological treasures such as the skeleton of a "giant" sailor named Luc the Dane. The wreck was discovered in 2001 by private explorer and Fairfax County resident Steve Libert. Libert says archaeological studies present good evidence that it is the Griffon, the oldest known shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

Michigan authorities aren't sure -- but if it is, they say, it belongs to the state. "The state has possession of the Great Lakes bottomlands," said Nate Bailey, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office. "Any materials in those bottomlands are the property of the state." Libert, who won't say where the wreck is, counters that the Griffon would be the property of France, but he wants custodial rights to explore the wreck and rights to movie and book deals. "If it turns out to be the Griffon, we don't own it but we want rights to salvage it," Libert said. "Then the French will decide what to do with the vessel." "If the French proclaim the wreck is their property, you would be talking about the king of France, which doesn't exist anymore," Bailey said. "That would be a wholly separate matter, which the State Department would take up with the French government."