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'ODYSSEY MARINE', Shipwreck Finders - UPDATES

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Bianca
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« Reply #15 on: May 22, 2009, 10:02:51 am »










Once back in port, Stemm sped to London to see the Second Sea Lord, hoping to broker a deal with English Heritage, the Ministry of Defence, and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. To provide physical proof that Victory had been found, OME was permitted to lift two of the bronze cannon from the site last October. They are now under lock and key in Portsmouth dockyard.

The maritime archaeology community did not greet Stemm’s announcement in February that he had found the wreck with unreserved enthusiasm. Even though he has scientists, archaeologists and historians on board his ships, the more traditional confines of archaeology regard him as an opportunistic arriviste. “There are some horrendous examples of commercial archaeological salvage companies destroying valuable finds because they are driven by commercial imperative,” says Mike Williams, secretary of the Nautical Archaeological Society and an expert on maritime law at the University of Wolverhampton.

“I agree 100 per cent,” Stemm says, “but Odyssey Marine isn’t one of them.” To underline its credentials, yesterday the company published details of 267 wrecks it has found in the Channel during a 4,700 square-mile mapping exercise that was conducted over four years, the first deep-sea survey of anywhere in Europe. These findings, Stemm claims, reveal the “incredible damage that is being done to these wrecks by trawlers and dredgers”.

“The English Channel is like a giant industrial wasteland. The devastation we have found flies in the face of government policy, which is to preserve wrecks in situ. We are saying that this cannot be done and that the most important artefacts must be raised.”

“From a mid-17th century merchant vessel with a cargo of elephant tusks to German U-Boats, the Channel is the history of Britain, our moat,” says Kingsley. “We are allowing our heritage to be literally sliced through.” 
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« Reply #16 on: May 22, 2009, 10:03:42 am »









But cultural salvage doesn’t come cheap. “When we are in excavation mode it costs us close to $1 million a month,” Stemm reveals. ROVs cost $50,000 for the smallest, the size of a refrigerator, up to nearly $4 million for a Zeus, which weighs in at eight tonnes on dry land but pirouettes over the seabed like a ballerina. Stemm was the first to adapt robots used for laying undersea pipes and cables and oilrig work to archaeology. “We spent close to $22 million on operations last year,” he says, “but the potential returns justify that.”

Stemm is a native Floridian, fishing and boats are in his blood; he can remember fishing with his grandfathers. “I was always happiest offshore,” he says. “I really wanted to study marine archaeology but they didn’t have any programmes so I did marine biology instead.”

He dropped out of college at the age of 20, and “took care of a sailboat for a gentleman in the entertainment business”. This was how he ended up working with Bob Hope, for whom he worked as a personal assistant-cum-location scout. “He was a bright guy and very kind to me. That’s what sidetracked me into advertising and marketing.”

By the mid-Eighties Stemm was still in advertising when, with a group of likeminded businessmen — including the Apple founder Steve Jobs and Michael Dell of Dell Computers — he set up the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, a network for fledgeling tycoons. Today YEO has 6,000 members in 70 countries. Stemm, though, still felt the call of the sea and when, in 1986, he met a shipbroker in a bar in Grand Cayman, an opportunity arose that seemed too good to miss.

A month later, he was the owner of an 85-ft research vessel with a double-lot decompression chamber. He and his business partner, John C. Morris, originally intended to use their purchase as a dive charter boat, but then they saw a demonstration of ROVs by the US Navy and were hooked. They bought one for $50,000.

“We soon had insurance companies and government agencies asking us to look for sunken boats and other stuff, but what really set me thinking was attending an archaeology conference. I suddenly saw that the world was polarised between archaeologists, who didn’t have any money for excavation, and treasure hunters.” 
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« Reply #17 on: May 22, 2009, 10:04:29 am »









In 1994 Stemm and Morris, since retired, founded Odyssey Marine Exploration. From Phoenician trading ships to men of war, Stemm built up a database of 3,000 shipwrecks around the world and divided them into those that were worth exploring financially and those that were not. Then he went hunting for the big ones.

Not every government gets along with Stemm. In July 2007, the Spanish Civil Guard intercepted his one of his other ships, Ocean Alert, just after she left Gibraltar and escorted her into Algeciras, where she and her crew were searched and computer hard drives confiscated.

The Spanish believed that the 17-tonne, £253 million haul of coins, gold ornaments and tableware that OME had found on a colonial-era shipwreck it codenamed “Black Swan” located “somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean” was either a Spanish warship, Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, or another vessel that had gone down in Spanish waters. But the coins had flown, literally — loaded into white plastic buckets, transferred to a jet at Gibraltar and then on to the US, where a leading expert in antique coinage, Nick Bruyer, pronounced the find: “unprecedented. I don’t know of anything equal or comparable to it.” Three months later, Odyssey Explorer was seized off the coast of Gibraltar, at which point the Spanish Culture Minister uttered his pointed remarks about piracy.

Spain has since filed a claim for ownership of the treasure ship in the US federal court, where Stemm is applying for a salvage award. US courts have a jurisdiction over who has rights to wrecks found in international waters.

So why did he move the treasure so fast? “It’s complicated, legally,” Stemm says. “One hypothesis so far is that the cargo on the site could be from the Mercedes,” he admits, “but we did not know to whom the coins belonged at the time, and it is still not clear. In fact, a ship believed to be the Mercedes was found lying in Portuguese waters far from our find, so that seems to contradict the theory. Her legal fate is now in the hands of a judge; it’s the only way to safeguard the integrity of the site.”

And the coins? “They are in a secret conservation lab in Florida,” he says “where they are being slowly and meticulously conserved.” None of them can appear for sale on his online Shipwreck Store until the lawyers have finished haggling, but, not missing a trick, he is marketing “authentic replica” Black Swan coins, “cast from the original coins”.

“I have to hire a lot of lawyers,” Stemm shrugs. “Marine archaeology is a legally untested area.” Work on HMS Sussex has also been postponed to allow Gibraltar-related diplomatic issues to be resolved between Spain and the UK. From Victory, also found in international waters, Stemm has lodged a fire-brick from the ship’s kitchen in the US court “symbolising that the judge has control of the entire site.” He will decide who can claim salvage to her spoils, once the British Government has decided how much of the site it wants Stemm to excavate (the fabric of the ship is too damaged to bring to the surface).

More than once OME has been accused of being stealthy and secretive. “We do not disclose information about specific shipwrecks during the search process,” Stemm says, “but we share our discoveries with the world.”

The artefacts and treasure, photos, video, and archaeological information are made accessible to the public through Odyssey’s website. There have been numerous TV programmes, presentations, academic papers and travelling exhibitions in the United States.

“One of the great disservices our critics have done to us is to say that this is all about the money,” says Stemm, who was part of the UNESCO experts’ meeting that negotiated the Draft Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. “We love the artefacts,” he says, “we love the history. Wrecks are time capsules and we can do what governments and museums cannot afford to do alone. We also have to earn a living at it.” 
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« Reply #18 on: June 04, 2009, 05:01:10 pm »










                                Treasure hunters ordered to return £250m of loot to Spain


              American treasure-hunters have been ordered to handover an estimated £250 million


               worth of gold and silver coins salvaged from a Spanish shipwreck in Atlantic waters.
 





By Fiona Govan
in Madrid
4 Jun 2009

The Spanish government has won a two-year legal battle against commercial marine archaeologist firm Odyssey, which Spain accused of plundering its national heritage.

The Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration recovered 17 tons of gold and silver from a sunken vessel they code-named the "Black Swan" in March 2007. The Nasdaq-listed company refused to reveal the location of the wreck insisting that it had been found in international waters and therefore beyond the legal jurisdiction of any one country.

But when the record haul was announced Spain came to suspect the treasure had been looted from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish frigate laden with bullion from the Americas that sunk by the British off the coast of Portugal in October 1804.

Spain branded the Odyssey team "21st century pirates" and sent its navy to intercept vessels owned by Odyssey as they explored the waters around Spain. They seized equipment and records but failed to find the salvaged coins which had already been secretly flown out to a warehouse in Tampa, Florida.

In May 2007 the Spanish government launched legal proceedings with the US courts against Odyssey arguing that the wreck was protected by "sovereign immunity" which prohibits the unauthorised disturbance or commercial exploitation of state-owned naval vessels.

In a landmark ruling on Wednesday a judge at the Federal Court in Tampa found against Odyssey and ordered the treasure to be returned to Spain.

Angeles Gonzales-Sinde, Spain's minister of culture, welcomed the decision. "The Judge saw that the ship and its contents belong to Spain. It's a hugely important ruling and one that will set a precedent for future claims."

The ruling could have an impact on future finds by the company, which is in talks with the British government over salvaging the wreck of the HMS Sussex, an 80-gun warship believed to be carrying 10 tonnes of gold when it sank off the coast of Spain during a storm in 1694.

Odyssey said it will appeal the court's decision. "I'm confident that ultimately the judge or the appellate court will see the legal and evidentiary flaws in Spain's claim," said Gregg Stemm, the CEO of Odyssey. "We'll be back to argue the merits of the case."
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« Reply #19 on: June 04, 2009, 05:02:12 pm »








Spanish greed has not abated, even after so many centuries!!!
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« Reply #20 on: June 05, 2009, 06:40:07 pm »










                                  U.S. judge recommends returning treasure to Spain
           





Jim Loney
Jun 4, 2009
MIAMI
(Reuters)

– A U.S. judge said a shipwreck found by an American treasure hunting company is the Spanish warship Mercedes and its loot should be returned to Spain, but the firm said on Thursday it would contest the non-binding decision.

The recommendations on Wednesday by a magistrate judge in Tampa, Florida, marked the latest step in a lengthy battle between the treasure hunters, Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc, and the governments of Spain and Peru over nearly 600,000 silver and gold coins valued at some $500 million.

The Spanish government hailed the decision from Magistrate Mark Pizzo, which called for the treasure to be returned to Spain within 10 days. But it was simply a recommendation to a U.S. district court judge, who will issue a final order.

"I am delighted that the judge has ruled that the ship belongs to Spain and the treasure belongs to Spain. It is a very important decision," said Spanish Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde, adding it set an important precedent.

Odyssey's shares closed nearly 43 percent lower at $2.21 on the Nasdaq exchange on Thursday.

The company said the magistrate's recommendations would have no impact on its balance sheet because the coins were never treated as assets.

Odyssey discovered wreckage and a 17-tonne haul of artifacts in March 2007 in international waters about 100 miles west of the Straits of Gibraltar.

Spain said the coins came from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a frigate carrying treasure back from Peru when it was sunk by British gunboats off the Spanish coast in 1804.

Spain claimed the loot as its own, but not before Odyssey had flown the treasure to Florida from Gibraltar, a British territory.
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« Reply #21 on: June 05, 2009, 06:42:22 pm »










CODE NAME 'BLACK SWAN'



The Mercedes sank in the first few minutes of the Battle of Cape St. Mary's as an explosion ripped it apart, killing more than 200 sailors. The attack led Spain to declare war on Britain and enter the Napoleonic Wars on the side of France.

Pizzo said in his report there was solid evidence the wreckage was that of the Mercedes, as Spain argued.

"The debris field's location, coins, cannons and artifacts persuasively match the Mercedes historical record," he wrote.

He said the Tampa court did not have jurisdiction in the case and recommended the artifacts be returned to Spain.

Odyssey, which had code-named its recovery project "Black Swan," said it planned to file a written objection to the decision and would "vigorously defend its rights to what it has legally recovered."

"We'll be back to argue the merits of the case," Odyssey chief executive Greg Stemm said. "Odyssey has done everything by the book. For the court to find that enough evidence exists to conclusively identify the site as the Mercedes ... is just wrong."

Peru, which was ruled by Spain at the time the Mercedes was sunk, entered the legal fray in August when it filed a claim for information with the Tampa court. The filing said the coins may be "part of the patrimony of the Republic of Peru."



(Additional reporting by

Ben Harding
in Madrid;

Editing by
John O'Callaghan)
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