Expert divers are believed to have been involved in the deep-sea looting of a shipwreck off Victoria's coast.
A recent routine inspection of the small iron steamer SS Alert, wrecked in 1893 and found in 2007 near Cape Schanck, revealed devastating news for maritime historians.
"Items including navigation lights, bottles, plates and a lamp shade have been stolen," Heritage Victoria Executive Director Steven Avery said in a statement on Tuesday.
"With the shipwreck located at a depth of 80 metres, the removal of these valuable artefacts could have only been carried out by specialist divers trained in technical diving."
When discovered, the wreck still contained the crew's personal effects and a protected zone was put in place.
Only one of the Alert's 16 crew survived when she struck trouble in a storm on December 28, 1893 while returning to Melbourne from Lakes Entrance while carrying a load of wattle bark.
Heritage Victoria is working with the federal Department of the Environment and Energy to investigate the looting.
Guilty parties could face penalties including up to five years in jail or a fine of $168,000.
Australian Associated Press