A FISHMONGER who is helping to look after a historical wreck off Southend Pier has spoken out after police arrested two divers for allegedly plundering valuable artefacts from the site.

Steve Ellis, 46, and four of his friends were granted a one-year licence to monitor HMS London, which sank a mile off Southend Pier in 1665.

The five-strong team will be able to investigate the wreck with the blessing of English Heritage, but are not allowed to bring any treasures they discover to the surface.

They also protect the wreck from people illegally diving on it.

Mr Ellis spoke out after two men were bailed following their arrest on Tuesday on suspicion of stealing a cannon and other items believed to be from the wreck in the Thames.

Police have confirmed both of the men arrested are not linked to Mr Ellis or his team.

Mr Ellis, of Park Drive, Westcliff, said: “It is shocking people plunder the wrecks just to make a few bucks out of it.

“The artefacts are not always worth much financially, but their historical and archaeological value is huge. Some divers do look to collect items from the wreck, but they need to be studied and in a museum.

“That is why me and my team applied for a licence to monitor the wreck to find out more about Southend’s history.”

A 44-year-old man, from Ramsgate, Kent, was arrested at a commercial address in Dover and a 54-year-old man, from Dover, was arrested on a boat in a marina in Gravesend.

Officers discovered huge amounts of lead and a cannon, believed to be from the ship.

Both of the men arrested were allegedly diving illegally on the wreck.

The discovery followed a joint investigation by police from Essex and Kent working with officials from English Heritage and the Receiver of the Wreck.

Mr Ellis added: “There has recently been a protection status on the wreck to stop this kind of thing from happening.

“We are the eyes and ears for English Heritage and want to protect this wreck.”

Both men have been bailed pending further inquiries until July 5.