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TOPIC: Chipman fired chairman of the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums

Chipman fired chairman of the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums 2 years 2 months ago #19597

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#The Government’s failure to comply with its own legislation has left wreck salvagers and their financiers “frustrated and disillusioned with the Bahamas”, and could cost this nation both its heritage and a multi-million dollar industry.

#Anthony Howorth, past chairman of the Bahamas Association of Treasure Salvors, told Tribune Business yesterday that more than 15 applications to search for ancient shipwrecks in Bahamian waters had been sitting on the Government’s desk for more than a year.

#With the clock continuing to tick, Mr Howorth warned that these salvage firms and their backers were increasingly likely to walk away, depriving the Bahamas of both an economic boost and its rich history/heritage.

#Failure to secure and properly salvage wreck sites, he explained, left valuable artefacts - that ought to be displayed in a Bahamian National Museum - at the mercy of pirates.
#“I am concerned at the lack of progress in dealing with the 15 or more applications for the rights to search for ancient wrecks, which are a major part of our national heritage,” Mr Howorth wrote in an e-mail to Tribune Business.

#“It is now over a year since such applications were submitted. The whole business of locating and preserving these heritage sites, and in so doing making many artefacts available for the National Museum and preventing the piracy that is going on, is another responsibility of the Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation (AMMC).”

#Mr Howorth said the AMMC had a Bahamian archeologist and team of students available to control and monitor wreck salvage sites, with Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers available to provide security.

#This, he added, would be 100 per cent paid for by the licensees - the wreck salvagers themselves.

#But, recalling the current status of the licensing/approval process, Mr Howorth said: “Although the legislation required a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer for each application to be given in 90 days of the application, no such answer has been given, and investors who finance these activities and take all the risk are frustrated and have become disillusioned with the way business is conducted in the Bahamas.”

#Recalling the Government’s current focus on private-public sector partnerships (PPPs), as emphasised in both the 2013-2014 Budget and by Prime Minister Perry Christie, the former Treasure Salvors president said wreck salvaging also fell into this equation.

#“This is another example of a PPP, where the Government licenses or leases the seabed and receives, at no cost, 25 per cent of the recovered items, controls the archeological site, and has first choice of any items deemed national heritage,” Mr Howorth said.

#“Yet the Prime Minister has to date not given one Bahamian or foreign applicant his sanction.”

#Speaking with Tribune Business, Mr Howorth encouraged the Christie administration to treat wreck salvaging licences like the oil exploration licences it had granted to the Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC).

#“As long as they [wrecks] are out there, and the fishermen and other American pirates come in, you never know what is going on at night, and the sites can be ravaged,” Mr Howorth told this newspaper.

#“We’ve had reports about it, although no one’s been caught doing it.”

#The wreck salvaging industry, he added, would create jobs for Bahamian archaeologists and divers, with the former joining Defence Force officers to “supervise, watch and train the crew”.

#“The employment and logistics of doing it does introduce a lot of revenue into the country,” Mr Howorth told Tribune Business.

#“The Government should look at them [wreck salvaging licences] as oil leases, and rent them out at a reasonable price - 25 per cent of what they find. It doesn’t cost the Government a thing, and it’s a good deal.

#“It’s a hell of a job to find things wrecked two, three centuries ago. They get embedded by coral.”

#Tribune Business revealed last year how Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration, a “world leader” in shipwreck salvaging that was featured in a Discovery Channel documentary, was negotiating with the Government over conducting treasure-hunting exploration in Bahamian waters.

#The company, which was seen by TV viewers recovering 1,218 silver bullion ingots from a World War II wreck 4,700 metres deep off the Irish coast, met Prime Minister Perry Christie and other Bahamian government officials about conducting similar operations in the wreck-rich Bahamian waters.

#Among prime Bahamian exploration targets are likely to be the wreck of the Nuestra de Signora Maravillas, thought to have gone down with $8 billion in gold in shallow waters off Grand Bahama’s West End, plus the Capitana, believed to have sunk with an estimated $2 billion in golds and emeralds from Colombia.

#And an idea of what the treasure/wreck salvaging industry could generate for the Bahamas, in terms of economic impact, is hinted at by a 2008 survey of what it has done for Florida.

#The survey, prepared for the Mel Fisher Centre, found that state’s marine salvage sector had directly generated economic activity worth $70.9 million per annum, and some 550 jobs. Earnings produced by the sector stood at $26.2 million.

#“Museums, retailing operations and the donation to Florida of more than 38,000 salvaged items of historic and cultural value have benefited Florida and its citizens, as well as citizens from across the world who have visited here,” the report said.

#To remove the wreck salvaging application log jam, Mr Howorth suggested that AMMC chairman, Courtney Strachan, “be given a freer hand” to give approvals, supported by the appropriate technical advice.

#“Why is the PM responsible for the seabed and AMMC? It’s ridiculous,” he told Tribune Business. “Originally, the AMMC was gazzetted under the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, then moved to Education, Science and Technology.

#“Then it appeared in the PM’s Office. I don’t understand that. When I was dealing with leases, there were five ministries I had to go through to get things done. The Ministry of Finance thinks there’s money coming out of the ocean, and want it in their bank account. There’s no need for the Ministry of Finance to be involved.”

#Mr Howorth also expressed concern about “the lack of funding and the deteriorating state of many national historic sites” in the Bahamas.

#He praised Mr Strachan for identifying “many ways that the business of managing the national heritage sites of the Bahamas can contribute substantial revenue and, at the same time, restore the many sites to a standard acceptable to UNESCO and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Line Association”.

#Suggesting that the AMMC could launch a National Heritage Bond issue, with an interest rate of 6 per cent, Mr Howorth said it could be backed by visitor/user fees charged at the sites it upgraded - the Water Tower, and likes of Forts Fincastle and Charlotte.

#Calling for “a clearly depicted and approved business plan”, Mr Howorth said it seemed that the AMMC’s hands were “tied”.

#“Ideas are plentiful in the Bahamas. But the willingness to put them into action and give proper authority to the likes of the AMMC are seriously lacking,” he added.
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