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Shipwreck yields $500M haul - Richest shipwreck treasure?

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« on: May 18, 2007, 10:01:10 am »

                                                    Shipwreck yields estimated $500M haul

Associated Press Writer

 TAMPA, Fla. - Deep-sea explorers said Friday they have mined what could be the richest shipwreck treasure in history, bringing home 17 tons of colonial-era silver and gold coins from an undisclosed site in the Atlantic Ocean. Estimated value: $500 million.
A jet chartered by Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration landed in the United States recently with hundreds of plastic containers brimming with coins raised from the ocean floor, Odyssey co-chairman Greg Stemm said. The more than 500,000 pieces are expected to fetch an average of $1,000 each from collectors and investors.

"For this colonial era, I think (the find) is unprecedented," said rare coin expert Nick Bruyer, who examined a batch of coins from the wreck. "I don't know of anything equal or comparable to it."

Citing security concerns, the company declined to release any details about the ship or the wreck site Friday. Stemm said a formal announcement will come later, but court records indicate the coins might come from a 400-year-old ship found off England.

Because the shipwreck was found in a lane where many colonial-era vessels went down, there is still some uncertainty about its nationality, size and age, Stemm said, although evidence points to a specific known shipwreck. The site is beyond the territorial waters or legal jurisdiction of any country, he said.

"Rather than a shout of glee, it's more being able to exhale for the first time in a long time," Stemm said of the haul, by far the biggest in Odyssey's 13-year history.

He wouldn't say if the loot was taken from the same wreck site near the English Channel that Odyssey recently petitioned a federal court for permission to salvage.

In seeking exclusive rights to that site, an Odyssey attorney told a federal judge last fall that the company likely had found the remains of a 17th-century merchant vessel that sank with valuable cargo aboard, about 40 miles off the southwestern tip of England. A judge signed an order granting those rights last month.

In keeping with the secretive nature of the project dubbed "Black Swan," Odyssey also isn't talking yet about the types, denominations and country of origin of the coins.

Bruyer said he observed a wide range of varieties and dates of likely uncirculated currency in much better condition than artifacts yielded by most shipwrecks of a similar age.

The Black Swan coins — mostly silver pieces — likely will fetch several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars each, with some possibly commanding much more, he said. Value is determined by rarity, condition and the story behind them.

Controlled release of the coins into the market along with their expected high value to collectors likely will keep prices at a premium, he said.

The richest ever shipwreck haul was yielded by the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha, which sank in a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622. Treasure-hunting pioneer Mel Fisher found it in 1985, retrieving a reported $400 million in coins and other loot.

Odyssey likely will return to the same spot for more coins and artifacts.

"We have treated this site with kid gloves and the archaeological work done by our team out there is unsurpassed," Odyssey CEO John Morris said. "We are thoroughly documenting and recording the site, which we believe will have immense historical significance."

The news is timely for Odyssey, the only publicly traded company of its kind.

The company salvaged more than 50,000 coins and other artifacts from the wreck of the SS Republic off Savannah, Ga., in 2003, making millions. But Odyssey posted losses in 2005 and 2006 while using its expensive, state-of-the-art ships and deep-water robotic equipment to hunt for the next mother lode.

"The outside world now understands that what we do is a real business and is repeatable and not just a lucky one shot deal," Stemm said. "I don't know of anybody else who has hit more than one economically significant shipwreck."

In January, Odyssey won permission from the Spanish government to resume a suspended search for the wreck of the HMS Sussex, which was leading a British fleet into the Mediterranean Sea for a war against France in 1694 when it sank in a storm off Gibraltar.

Historians believe the 157-foot warship was carrying nine tons of gold coins to buy the loyalty of the Duke of Savoy, a potential ally in southeastern France. Odyssey believes those coins could also fetch more than $500 million.

But under the terms of a historic agreement Odyssey will have to share any finds with the British government. The company will get 80 percent of the first $45 million and about 50 percent of the proceeds thereafter.


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« Last Edit: November 02, 2007, 02:26:36 pm by Bianca2001 » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2007, 01:27:55 am »

I've heard this site is somewhere off the coast of England.  It's no wonder they haven't revealed the location, I can only imagine how many pirate ships would have set off to try and claim the same loot.

It just goes to show how little the oceans have been explored and how little we know of what is there.  I never even heard of this expedition until the last few days, and that is an awfully big hole in history for a ship to be carrying such loot.
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« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2007, 01:20:06 am »

Spain sues to block U.S. claim to sunken treasure Wed May 30, 6:51 PM ET

MIAMI (Reuters) - The Spanish government filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court on Wednesday seeking to block claims by Florida-based treasure hunters Odyssey Marine Exploration to any Spanish property recovered from shipwrecks.

The suit does not refer specifically to Odyssey's claim on May 18 that it had legally recovered gold and silver coins worth an estimated $500 million from a colonial-era wreck code-named "Black Swan" at an undisclosed location in the Atlantic Ocean.

But Spain's Culture Ministry has called that discovery -- one of the world's biggest finds of sunken treasure -- suspicious and said the booty may have come from a wrecked Spanish galleon.

"The Kingdom of Spain has not abandoned its ownership and other rights in sunken vessels of the Kingdom of Spain, in vessels sunk while in the service of the Kingdom of Spain, and in cargo or other property of the Kingdom of Spain on or in sunken vessels," said the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

"All sovereign and other rights in such vessels, cargo, artifacts or other contents have been reserved," it said.

"The Kingdom of Spain further affirms and restates that arrest, recovery, or other unauthorized disturbance or recovery by Odyssey Marine Exploration of property of the Kingdom of Spain is not authorized, and the Kingdom of Spain reserves all rights and remedies arising from such activities."

A spokesman for Tampa-based Odyssey could not be reached for immediate comment on the suit, which was filed on Spain's behalf by Washington-based attorney James Goold.

But the company has said that the "Black Swan" recovery mission did not fall under Spanish jurisdiction.

Goold said Wednesday's suit was one of three the Spanish government was filing against Odyssey aimed at blocking its claims to various shipwrecks, including the "Black Swan."

He acknowledged there were many uncertainties about claims made by Odyssey, however, given the veil of secrecy under which it has operated.

"Despite repeated requests, Odyssey has not released information identifying which ships are involved in the claims it has filed," Goold said. "They have not responded to requests, before we filed this case, for information."
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« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2007, 09:16:03 pm »

Spain’s hidden treasure
Juan Francisco Alonso

The “Odyssey” case has raised concern about the many galleons full of silver and gold lying at the bottom of the sea

The modern day search for the sunken wreckage of the “HMS Sussex”, which went down on February 19th 1694 with a significant booty in its bowels, has being going on for several years. During this time maritime law expert, journalist and writer, Lorenzo “Pipe” Sarmiento, has been close on the trail of Odyssey Marine Exploration, and their activities in the Straits of Gibraltar in a number of different vessels. However the US firm continued to be one step ahead and in 2006 they reached an agreement with the British Navy concerning the search for the Sussex and also gained authorisation from the Spanish Foreign Ministry to “survey and identify without disturbing sand, always in the presence of archaeologists from the Junta de Andalucía”.
This authorisation was something of a surprise as it is normally the regional government’s jurisdiction to grant this type of permit. Nevertheless Odyssey arrived with their giant underwater robot and moved plenty of sand without the presence of an archaeologist. What they found may not have been the Sussex but the photographs released once their booty had been taken back to the USA looked like a corner of Ali Baba’s cave: 17 million tons of silver valued at 500 million dollars, taken from a spot somewhere between Estepona, Gibraltar and Sotogrande, according to the AISlive satellite used by Sarmiento; or from international waters, according to Odyssey’s version.

Xavier Nieto, director of the Underwater Archaeology Centre of Cataluña, claims that the apparently unexplainable permit from the Ministry is the result of the neglect suffered by this area of Spain’s culture. “Spain’s underwater archaeology work has arrived late on the scene”, he explains. “Other Mediterranean countries started in the 1950s; we started in 1981 and now we are worse off than we were then. Four centres were set up but with scarce financial and human resources. There are fewer than a dozen professional archaeologists working with this huge heritage, there is no specific university training, except for the odd isolated short course, and a clear legal problem. The 1985 law, which likens underwater archaeology to archaeology on dry land, was not very realistic”.

Nieto goes on to say that the Andalusian coastline is exceptional. “The House of Trade for the Indies was set up in Seville in 1503 and all the galleons sailing from America passed through there. Furthermore the entrance to the Bay of Cadiz is very dangerous and that caused a lot of accidents”.

Gonzalo Millán del Pozo, the writer and director of the Poseidon Project (a group that aims to protect the underwater cultural heritage), speaks of more than 800 sunken galleons with cargoes that could be worth more than a hundred thousand million euros.

An immense booty waiting to be found, or historical and cultural heritage? Carmen García Rivera, coordinator of the Andalusian Underwater Archaeology Centre (CAS) based in Cadiz, clearly prefers the second description. “Our mission is not to recover treasure but to investigate, protect and preserve heritage where it is”. In its first decade the CAS has tried to draw up a thorough archaeological map of Andalusian waters - so far it includes 80 sites - as a step prior to investigation.

Finders keepers?

Carmen García Rivera believes that technological advances ought to serve to protect sunken wrecks and fight against looting. This evidently has not been the case if the Odyssey’s find was made in Spanish waters. This American firm, whose value on the stock market doubled after its million dollar find had been announced, seems to prefer to take the “finders, keepers” attitude.

This recent case will most probably end up in court. On Wednesday the Spanish Government filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Tampa, Florida, (where Odyssey Marine Exploration is based) to block claims by the US treasure hunters to Spanish property recovered from shipwrecks. The Ministry of Culture continues to call the Odyssey’s find, code-named “Black Swan”, suspicious. Odyssey had not commented on the lawsuit at the time of going to press.

There are precedents. In 2001 the Spanish claim to ownership of Spanish vessels sunk in American waters was upheld by the US supreme court. This followed the finding of the remains of the “Juno”, shipwrecked in 1802, by a private firm.
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« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2007, 06:18:11 am »


Sunday, June 10, 2007


Treasure ship's half-billion-dollar question: Who owns the past?

Published June 10, 2007

Pounded by a storm on the last leg of a five-week journey, the Merchant Royal limped through the sea on Sept. 23, 1641, weighed down by tons of gold, silver and jewels.

Its 80-man crew feverishly worked two pumps to keep out the ocean that was leaking through the groaning and gapping planks of the Royal.

Though the ship was privately owned by Britons, it carried a load of treasure fresh from Spain's American mines. The doubloons' original courier, a Spanish treasure ship, had arrived at the Azores islands aflame. Spanish authorities put out the fires and hired the 700-ton Royal to complete the trip, not unusual when the lines of public and private, nationality and allegiance, crossed in far different ways than today.

When the news reached London, Britain's secretary of state interrupted Parliament to announce that the Royal had sunk 10 leagues, or roughly 30 miles, off Land's End, the country's southwestern point. It was one of the largest seafaring disasters of the time.

According to a contemporaneous account in Ye Olde Maile, as the ship and its crew approached the English channel, "night came on and foule weather, they plyed their two chaine pumps, in midst of which labour both the pumpe chaines broke at once and fell into the wells."

Most of the crew escaped in a longboat to be rescued by the Dover Merchant, a smaller ship accompanying the Royal on its journey.

Seven men, the broadsheet says, ran down to fill their pockets with treasure and drowned in the ship as it sank.

"The Captaine was the last, who would not forsake her until she was sunke even unto her cook-roome ports."

Now, the Merchant Royal might return from the sea, complete with its silver, gold, jewels and 36 bronze cannon.

And with recovery will come questions. Who owns treasure from a different time, a different world? Spain, the country that mined the gold and silver? England, the country whose ship transported it? The descendants of the slaves who dug it out of mines in the bowels of the Earth? The captain whose ship and personal fortune sunk? Or is it finder's keepers?

And if a country lays a claim, how similar is, say, the England of 1641 - in which civil war was about to break out and a king to lose his head - to the England of today? Can a ship that went down in one world, a mere 21 years after the Pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock, be claimed by another, ours? If the rule of law reaches so far back, can people or nations be held accountable for transgressions such as slavery from those same times?


Last month, Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration released footage of gold and silver coins it says came from a shipwreck. The company has been tight-lipped about the ship's identity, saying officials still need to verify it.

British shipwreck historian Richard Larn, who maintains the seven-volume, nearly 50, 000-entry Lloyd's Shipwreck Index of the British Isles, said he's almost certain Odyssey has found the Royal.

Larn lives near Land's End, Britain's southwest tip. For two years, local fishermen have watched Odyssey's sonar ships combing the sea about 24 miles from Larn's home.

"That's the rough area where the records say that the Merchant Royal sank, " Larn said, and the Royal is the only wreck anywhere near the English Channel that holds the amount of treasure Odyssey recovered.

At a shipwreck conference in 2005, Larn added, Odyssey co-founder Greg Stemm asked him if he knew anything that might aid the company in a search for the Merchant Royal.

When he found out last month about the company's find, "I was very pleased for them and I was very envious, " Larn said.

Fragile history

Some archaeologists, however, worry that a for-profit company like Odyssey could overlook the Royal's enormous historical value, erasing traces of the past that exist nowhere else.

"I have to part ways fundamentally with the idea of selling what is found, " said Jim Delgado, executive director of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University. "The flash of gold and silver often obscures the history."

He added that a colonial-era ship like the Royal could teach historians a great deal about the period.

"We know more about Roman seafaring than we know about the role of ships in the rise of the modern world economy, " he said.

Subtle clues that might seem worthless to treasure hunters can lead to major discoveries for historians. For example, the scatter pattern of a decaying ship's cargo can help experts figure out what the ship looked like - but only if the wreckage is carefully photographed before any items are moved.

Delgado gave another vivid example, from the "Gelidonya wreck, " a merchant ship that sank 3, 000 years ago off the Turkish coast. The team excavating the site found a box filled with "concretion, " a hardened mix of oxidized metal and dirt. By slicing up the block, they found perfect impressions of a Bronze Age woodworker's tools.

"Archaeology costs. When you have shareholders seeking the maximum profit, extensive archaeology gets in the way, " he said. When it comes to commercially salvaged shipwrecks, "in every case I'm aware of, commercial value has outstripped scientific value."

The waters around Florida are filled with ruined wrecks, places where treasure hunters used explosives or the force of their propellers to grind the site up in search of gold.

"If we have, say, a fish population in the gulf, we can change laws and regulations so hopefully they bounce back, " said University of West Florida archaeologist Greg Cook. "The problem with shipwrecks is they don't bounce back."

'Unbelievable validation'

Larn, the British historian, agreed that commercial companies are more likely than academics to damage a site - but said if the treasure hunters didn't find it, no one would.

"If companies like Odyssey and others didn't go out to do it many shipwrecks would never have been found, " Larn said.

John Opperman, who heads Odyssey's archaeology, research and conservation team, defended the publicly traded company's mission.

"Obviously our shareholders want us to come up with shiny discs - they get jazzed about it - but we want the artifacts that tell a story, " he said.

He gave the example of the mustard barrels and Worcestershire sauce bottles recovered from Odyssey's single previous discovery, a 19th-century paddlewheel steamer, the SS Republic.

"The food probably didn't taste too well back then, hence all the sauces, " Opperman said.

Opperman himself is not a trained archaeologist. A former telecommunications consultant, he helps the company's four full-time and 12 part-time archaeologists direct the marine operations team, which drives the ships and deep-water robots.

He said "best-practice archaeology" is the team's "mantra." The fact that they found the trove shows the research expertise of the team, he said.

Opperman referred to the ship as the "Black Swan, " Odyssey's code-name for the discovery.

He called it an "unbelievable validation that our principles of research and archaeology really, really made that happen."

A fraught claim

Even after all that work, Odyssey's bonanza is not yet secure. Some experts have suggested Odyssey knows which ship it has found but stays mum to ward off history's hold on the wreck.

The Spanish government, for example, has already pledged to take the company to court over the treasure it lost so long ago. But the world has changed a great deal since 1641.

For Delgado, the Texas A&M archaeologist, the "Black Swan" controversy is about "who owns the past, and what the most appropriate uses of the past are."

And who knows - Spain used slaves to rip the gold, silver and jewels from the earth. Their descendants might want a cut.

By 1641, Europe had spent decades choked by war. Spain had been fighting the Dutch for more than 70 years to maintain its empire in the Low Countries, and planned to use the Royal's cargo pay its soldiers in Flanders. Meanwhile, the Thirty Years' War raged in Germany between most of the countries in Western Europe.

By the time both wars ended in 1648, Europe had been devastated. In Germany alone, an estimated 20 percent of the population had succumbed to fighting, famine and disease.

Meanwhile the Spanish empire - one of the largest in history - entered its twilight. Since the mid 1500s, Spanish conquistadores had dominated indigenous cultures throughout the Americas. Remnants of the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas labored to send gold and silver to Spain's armies in Europe.

A careful examination could generate "sympathy for the people whose lives were rolled under and plundered, " said Delgado, as well as for the hard-bitten sailors who worked on the ship. "You start putting voices back into the record for people whose story was never written down."

That old British broadsheet described Capt. John Limbrey's depression at the loss of his ship:

"The Captaine on his landing repaired to his house and family, with a hankercher about his neck, and will not be seen or spoken with (as yet) by any his grief is so great."

Which, incidentally, introduces yet another claim on the bullion: Limbrey's descendants could try to recover part of their ancestor's personal fortune, which sank with the ship.

Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mmohammed@ or (813) 226-3404.

[Last modified June 9, 2007, 19:45:18]
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« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2007, 06:29:54 pm »


Spain confiscates a ship of the Tampa-based treasure hunters off the coast of Gibraltar.

By MARK ALBRIGHT- St. Petersburg Times

Published July 13, 2007

A Spanish coastguard boat (center) and the Spanish frigate 'Infanta Elena' (right) follows the 'Ocean Alert' into port in Algerciras, southern Spain, where police were waiting to search its holds.

Spanish authorities kicked their dispute with Tampa sunken treasure hunters up to international incident level Thursday by seizing an Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. ship for inspection off the coast of Gibraltar.

The government of British-ruled Gibraltar issued a formal protest, saying the MS Ocean Alert was "illegally boarded" in international waters, about 3.5 miles off the coast of what's commonly called "The Rock" at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.

Spanish Guardia Civils watch as the 'Ocean Alert' is escorted into port in Algerciras, southern Spain. Police say they were acting on an order of a Spanish judge who in June instructed police to capture the "Odyssey Explorer" and "Ocean Alert," two vessels belonging to a Florida firm that recently announced it had found a shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean laden with an estimated $500 million worth of Colonial-era treasure.

The Spanish Guardia Civil -- with a boatload of media in hot pursuit -- boarded the vessel and steered it into a Spanish port where it will remain for inspection a few days. Authorities confiscated Odyssey's equipment and cameras. Most of the crew reportedly was released and passports returned about seven hours into the affair.

Armed with a Spanish investigating judge's orders, the government is looking for potential Spanish loot or clues in a cat-and-mouse game over Odyssey's other salvaged shipwrecks the Spanish government may try to claim.

"It certainly shows the Spanish are quite serious about protecting their interest" in sunken treasure that salvors exhume with robotic equipment, clean and sell, said James Delgado of the Institute for Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M.

Gibraltar is a British territory at the southern tip of Spain. It says British waters extend three miles off the coast. Spain does not recognize the British boundary, saying it's all Spanish waters until international waters begin 12 miles offshore. Spanish patrol boats reportedly followed the Ocean Alert three miles before officers boarded the ship.

The British government raised objections to the seizure and subsequent impoundment with the foreign minister in Madrid.

The Ocean Alert is registered in Panama. The Gibraltar government renewed free-shipping concerns over the seizure.

"Assuming the Panamanian authorities have not given their consent, the arrest of the Ocean Alert would appear to be illegal," said a government statement.

"We made it clear to them that we were being illegally boarded in international waters under threat of force," Aladar Nesser, Odyssey's international business development director told a reporter at the scene.

Odyssey, however, down-played the fracas in a statement, saying the ship was forced into Spanish port at Algeciras because of a "miscommunication." But someone had alerted the Spanish media, which was out in force to record the event. And Odyssey was carrying a reporter from the Gibraltar Chronicle on board.

"The move follows two Odyssey vessels having spent the past three weeks effectively imprisoned in port while Odyssey negotiated with the Spanish government to seek a secure free passage," wrote Brian Reyes, reporter for the Gibraltar Chronicle.

The Spanish government has been furious since Odyssey quietly flew to the United States vast treasures the Spaniards think may belong to them. Odyssey in May spirited 17 tons of silver, gold and valuable artifacts supposedly worth more than $500-million to an undisclosed location in the United States. The haul came from a colonial-era shipwreck code-named "Black Swan" that Odyssey discovered somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

Odyssey says there is more to the find, but has disclosed little about it. The company filed suits in U.S. District Court in Tampa two months ago seeking approval to exhume three more wrecks: one in the Mediterranean between Sardinia and Sicily; one off Gibraltar; and a third off the southern coast of England.

The Spanish government intervened in each case to determine if the wrecks have links to Spanish heritage or culture. It doesn't matter if Spanish royal treasures lost long ago are found in the hold of another country's ship, a situation the country's attorneys compare to the United States trying to recover a gold shipment lifted from Fort Knox.

Odyssey, which shares archaeological data with scientists, recently filed a 109-page statement in one case detailing nine years of meetings about the Black Swan search with Spanish authorities.

Odyssey shares, which soared 37 percent after the Black Swan announcement, closed Thursday at $6.22, down 10 cents.
Mark Albright can be reached at or (727) 893-8252.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2007, 06:42:25 pm by Bianca2001 » Report Spam   Logged

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