South Carolina Federal District Judge Dismisses Suit in Hunley Case

The 40-foot hand-cranked Confederate submarine, “The H.L. Hunley “sank the Union blockade ship,” Housatonic” by ramming it with a spar with a black powder charge, sinking the vessel on Feb. 17, 1864. The Confederate submarine also sank and was finally located in 1995. It was raised five years later and brought to a conservation lab at the old Charleston Naval Base in Charleston, South Carolina.

Senior U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt, Jr. has dismissed a counterclaim to a lawsuit relating to the discovery of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, which was the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship. 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. Cussler’s group claims that Spence’s continuing claim he found the submarine injured the reputation of Cussler’s National Underwater & Marine Agency.

The South Carolina Hunley Commission supports the Cussler group’s claim that they found the sub off the coast of Charleston 12 years ago. Spence counterclaimed in 2002 and asked the court to declare him the finder.

Judge Blatt dismissed the counterclaim this week saying the three-year statute of limitations on admiralty claims had expired. Lee Spence’s attorney had argued the statute of limitations period started when the coordinates of the Hunley were published by the state in 2000. Judge Blatt ruled, however, that it started to run in 1995, the day Cussler and his team announced the discovery.


One of the attorneys for the Cussler group said that justice was done in dismissing the counterclaim.

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