TWO centuries underwater had dulled their sparkle, yet the first glimpse of silver coins drew excited cheers on board Odyssey Marine Exploration’s flagship. The gold coins that came next really caught the Iberian sun—and the spirits. The entire haul was worth around $500m; a record find for Greg Stemm, Odyssey’s boss. He dislikes the “treasure hunter” label, but sports a beard and cracks pirate jokes.
Like old buccaneers, he also tangles with the authorities. After five years of legal wrangling, America’s Supreme Court in 2012 upheld a ruling that, because the wreck was a Spanish warship, it enjoyed sovereign immunity. Odyssey has already returned most of the trove, nearly 600,000 coins. A ruling by a Florida court this month could make it pay Spain’s legal costs—which run into millions of dollars.
A former chicken farmer called Mel Fisher took eight years to secure his rights to the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, a 17th-century Spanish galleon. When he found it after more than a decade’s searching off the Florida coast, a hotbed for treasure hunters, the state claimed ownership of its cargo of silver coins and emerald jewelry. Eventually the Supreme Court ruled that the site was in international waters, where finders’ rights prevail.
Such struggles with officialdom make a tough business even harder. Some 3m wrecks pepper the ocean floors, according to the UN (though few contain riches). Finding them involves lengthy research and lucky breaks. Recovery can take months of work by specialist crews. Of 52 annual reports filed by publicly listed shipwreck-recovery firms since 1996, only five show a net profit. In that time Odyssey, the biggest, has racked up losses of nearly $150m. The “treasure” consists of money extracted from “starry-eyed investors”, according to James Goold, a lawyer who represented Spain in the Odyssey case.
If profits are low, the broader costs are high. Archaeologists accuse treasure hunters of smashing wrecks while looting them. Indonesia complains that a rare Arab dhow site was ravaged in its waters: thousand-year-old ceramics, judged commercially worthless, were thrown back in the sea. The firm’s boss, Tilman Walterfang, stands by his crew’s decisions and blames government meddling.
A UN convention in 2009 banned the sale of artifacts from wrecks over 100 years old and champions their conservation. But only 42 countries have ratified it (not including Britain and America). The opposition of salvage firms shows the convention’s power, argues Ulrike Guérin, who runs its Paris-based secretariat. Where many states sign up, as in Latin America, treasure-hunting ventures are foundering.
Sean Tucker of Galleon Ventures, a salvage firm, says the convention and the Spanish government’s persistence are squeezing out legitimate business. Michael Scaglione of Marine Exploration, another treasure-hunting outfit, has found the flagship of the famous buccaneer Henry Morgan, near Haiti. But because that country is party to the convention, his firm cannot profit from its salvage.
One response is to work more closely with governments. Odyssey has three contracts with Britain, with expenses paid on successful recovery. Galleon Ventures is talking to Colombia about some of the 600 wrecks in its waters.
Treasure is not only on the seabed. Odyssey has its eye on subsea minerals. Mr Stemm says revenues could dwarf those from wrecks. Mr Fisher’s old firm now offers pirate-themed holidays to adventure-hungry tourists. Arqueonautas Worldwide, another firm, has a successful fashion line and plans for a video game and theme park. That may be more fun than most investors have had so far.
Courtesy The Economist
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Barry Clifford looked at a cannon in Brewster taken from the Whydah in a photo from July 17, 2007. VINCENT DEWITT/GLOBE FILE PHOTO
By Todd Feathers
After discovering a small brass nameplate, the team that found an unparalleled bounty of pirate riches submerged off Cape Cod with the ship Whydah three decades ago believes that more treasure may be found.
In 1984, Barry Clifford and his diving team discovered the three-masted ship, which had been captured by the infamous pirate captain Sam Bellamy, off the coast of Wellfleet. The latest discovery is a nameplate bearing the words “Whydah Gally 1713,” which Clifford believes may have been attached to the top of a treasure chest.
“We think we’re very close to the mother lode,” Clifford said. “We still haven’t excavated underneath that area yet . . . so, of course, we’re going back to that area after finding the top of a treasure chest.”
The ship Clifford discovered in 1984 was built in 1716 for the slave ship captain Lawrence Prince and captured by Bellamy in 1717. But records show that Prince had an earlier ship, also named Whydah, built in 1713, Clifford said.
After seeing the nameplate and the date, the team’s historian postulated that it may have been attached to a chest brought from the first Whydah to the second Whydah, possibly by Captain Prince himself.
That would make the nameplate, discovered earlier this month, the first artifact ever recovered from the first Whydah, wherever it now lies, Clifford noted.
The nameplate was found in a heavy concretion, a fused mass of artifacts and sediment, that also contained a large anchor. The concretion containing the nameplate and anchor was discovered beneath another large concretion of cannons, Clifford said. That, he said, is another clue that treasure may be in the vicinity.
According to testimony from pirate crew members who were captured after the second Whydah sank during a 1717 nor’easter, the vast majority of the crew’s hoard of coins and other valuables was held in decks below a group of captured cannons. Clifford thinks there may be more treasure at hand, and he is determined to find it.
“What we have here is very much like having the only Tyrannosaurus Rex [one of the largest dinosaurs ever],” he said. “It’s the only authentic pirate treasure in the world.”
Courtesy The Boston Globe
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By Ella Rhodes
UK - An amateur treasure-hunter's find of more than 3,600 Roman coins has led to the discovery of an ancient home.
David Beard took up metal detecting for some respite while he was caring for his mother who had Alzheimer's disease.
And he had only been doing it as a hobby for a year when he made the incredible discovery in Amber Valley.
Yesterday, his find was deemed to be treasure by Paul McCandless, deputy assistant coroner for Derby and South Derbyshire.
Two members of the Derbyshire Archaeological Society became involved in excavating the site and found the 3,631 coins were in the middle of the room of a large Roman house.
Mr Beard, of Sandbed Lane, Belper, said the coins he found ranged from the size of a lentil to the size of a modern penny. He said: "I was metal detecting in Amber Valley and in the first hole I found there were 500 coins."
They are third-century coins of a 'barbarous' radiate. This name refers to the spiked crown of the emperor on the coin.
According to a report from Eleanor Ghey, from The British Museum, they were produced locally and probably used to fill a gap in the official coin supply in Britain during the late third century.
If someone finds a hoard or treasure they must report it to the British Museum. It is then down to a coroner to decide on the basis of evidence whether something is treasure.
If an item or items are over 300 years old and contain 10% or more of precious metal they are officially treasure.
Susan Ebbins, of Derbyshire Archaeological Society, who has been excavating the site with fellow society member Alan Palfreyman, said: "Most hoards were found in the 18th and 19th centuries when people were expanding into the country and building roads.
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE BAHAMAS - A “world leader” in shipwreck salvaging, which was recently featured in a Discovery Channel documentary, is negotiating with the Government over conducting treasure-hunting exploration in Bahamian waters, it has confirmed to Tribune Business.
Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration, which was seen by TV viewers recovering 1,218 silver bullion ingots from a World War II wreck 4,700 meters deep off the Irish coast, has met Prime Minister Perry Christie and other Bahamian government officials about conducting similar operations in the wreck-rich Bahamian waters.
Laura Barton, Odyssey’s spokesperson, confirmed in an e-mailed response following Tribune Business inquiries: “Odyssey has met with government officials in the Bahamas, and we are excited about the possibility of working with the Bahamas under an agreement similar to those we have with other governments, which could recover and preserve lost cultural heritage and provide significant potential economic value to the country.”
While Odyssey did not comment further, and the Government has made no statement on the matter, Tribune Business sources close to developments confirmed that the marine salvager/explorer has met with Prime Minister Christie on its plans.
Apart from wreck salvaging/treasure hunting, this newspaper understands that Odyssey is also dangling the prospect of mining for mineral deposits in Bahamian waters in front of Mr. Christie, plus the possibility of moving its head office from Tampa to the Bahamas.
“They got the PM excited,” one source told Tribune Business. “He had one big meeting with Odyssey, and Odyssey said they wanted to mine the ocean floor. They’re talking about mining and what they can do from that.”
Odyssey’s 10-K annual report filing with the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) earlier this week discloses that it owns 6.2 million shares in Neptune Minerals, a company that discovers and “commercializes high-value mineral deposits”.
The company also has a long-term lease on the RV Dorado Discovery, a research vessel created for deep-ocean mineral exploration.
The 10-K filing reveals that Odyssey is focusing on Seafloor Massive Sulphides (SMS), which contain gold, copper, zinc and other minerals; Phosphorites; and Polymetallic nodules.
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE BAHAMAS - could “wipe out its national debt” if it moves to permit wreck/treasure salvaging and exploration, Tribune Business was told yesterday, one executive estimating $6 million could be instantly injected into the economy if pending license applications were approved.
Anthony Howorth, the former chairman of the Bahamas Association of Treasure Salvors (BATS), who has been assisting applicants applying for licenses from the Government, said one client had pledged to spend $600,000 in the Bahamas if their plans were given the go-ahead.
Other sources familiar with the situation told Tribune Business that at least 17 applications for survey licenses had been submitted to the Government - the first step in wreck/treasure exploration in Bahamian waters.
The applications were submitted after the House of Assembly, under the former Ingraham administration, passed the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Act, and accompanying regulations that govern how artifacts are to be recovered from Bahamian waters and the division of resulting profits.
Tribune Business understands that the Government’s plan is to issue five licenses in the initial tranche of approvals, and a further five at a later date, making for a total of 10.
However, none have been approved to date, and sources close to the process are concerned about potential bureaucratic delays and red tape holding-up the process.
Mr Howorth, meanwhile, emphasized that the groups he was working with were “interested in protecting the underwater sea environment in the Bahamas”.
He told Tribune Business that numerous wreck sites, where valuable artifacts of historical importance, plus gold bullion, lay, were “being pirated all the time”.
By Paul Fattig
SALEM, Ore. - A bill to restrict suction dredge mining on sections of 30 rivers in Oregon, including the Rogue and Illinois drainages, has fired up the mining camp as well as the environmental and recreational communities.
The Waldo Mining District and other mining organizations have pledged to fight it, while the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Rogue Flyfishers urge its support.
Introduced by state Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, Senate Bill 401 would expand an existing ban suction dredge mining by expanding to 30 the river segments identified as Oregon State Scenic Waterways.
The goal is to protect the region's legacy of clean water and river recreation, said Bates, the deputy majority leader.
"Southern Oregon is home to thousands of us who consider our peaceful, pristine rivers a legacy to pass on to the next generation," Bates said in a prepared statement. "The dramatic increase in this potentially harmful practice may have serious impacts on fish, recreational users, conservationists and affected property owners."
He noted that the practice of vacuuming up a river bed with a motorized raft to obtain gold has become more prevalent over the past decade, growing from a few hundred permits a decade ago to nearly 2,000 permits in 2012.
By Dr. E. Lee Spence
This coming March 19 is the 150th anniversary of the sinking of the Civil War blockade runner Georgiana. Officially a British, brig-rigged, merchant vessel, she was attacked and sunk in 1863, while attempting to run past the federal blockading squadron and into Charleston, South Carolina. Like the Titanic, she was lost on her maiden voyage. I discovered her on March 19, 1965, exactly 102 years after she sank.
At that time, I was still just a teenager, but I had already been finding other wrecks and researching the Georgiana’s history for years.
In 1967, I joined forces with one of South Carolina's finest commercial fisherman, the late Captain Wally Shaffer, and a highly respected former state representative, the late George E. Campsen, Jr. We each put up $500 to start Shipwrecks Inc., with me serving as president. Our company was eventually issued S.C. State Salvage License #1, with the State claiming 25% of our finds.
The Georgiana, which carried a million dollar cargo of merchandise, medicines and munitions, was also reported to have $90,000 in gold coin aboard. Assisted by Jim Batey, Drew Ruddy, Steve Howard, Kevin Rooney, Val Gruno, Jack Thomson, and others, we eventually recovered over a million individual artifacts from the wreck in the 1960s and 70s.
TAMPA, Fla., Feb. 21, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Seafarer Exploration Corporation (Seafarer) (OTCQB: SFRX) announced today that they have completed phase I on a shipwreck site located near Lantana Beach, FL and are moving into Phase II, a dig and identify permit which allows Seafarer to dig and determine various artifacts to help identify the ship. The final phase of excavation will be Phase III, full salvage.
Seafarer received a permit from the State of Florida for a shipwreck site located off of Lantana Beach, Florida in 2012. The site has recently been surveyed using a Geometrics 882 Cesium Vapor Magnetometer and this survey work showed compelling evidence that a large part of the ship lies buried in a relatively compacted area. Having completed phase I of the mapping survey and underwater video, Seafarer is preparing to begin digging and identifying the wreck. Items found and documented on this site in past explorations by third parties suggest the wreck could be a French or Spanish ship from the late 1600s. It will require more work to determine with accuracy.
Kyle Kennedy , Seafarer’s CEO, stated “While we have dig sites currently under permit, the Lantana Beach site represents one of our more intriguing ventures. In many cases historic shipwrecks are spread out over wide areas which can cause exploration and recovery to be very time consuming and expensive but this particular site looks very compact. We are very excited by what we discovered in Phase I and are eagerly anticipating Phase II which will begin immediately after obtaining our Department of Environmental Protection and US Army Corps of Engineers permits.”
The meeting with the chiefs. Dennis Åsberg and Peter Lindberg, back row, met with representatives of the tribe Kuna Yala in January. The plan is to start diving later this year. Photo: Ocean X Team
By Johanna Ekström
After the discovery of the mysterious circle in the Baltic Sea - now Ocean X Team is the first company to ever get the chance to literally start digging gold in the Indians' sacred waters off Panama's coast.
From the 1500s to the 1700s both commercial and Spanish warships loaded with gold and diamonds only to be wrecked in these waters, said Dennis Åsberg at Ocean X team
The coastal strip and the waters that run along the Panamanian coast down to Colombia belong to the Indian tribe Kuna Yala. The waters are sacred to Indians who have never allowed any treasure hunters to dive there - until now.
After seeing reports on the Ocean X Team and the mysterious circle they discovered in the Baltic Sea, which was a first for the world, last year contacted the Indians team.
We could hardly believe it was coming true; this is such a huge project. But they felt that we were trustworthy, we are a small Swedish company, said Dennis Åsberg in Ocean X team.
In January, he and Ocean X Team's second owner traveled to Panama and met the Indian chiefs. In May, they will head back there again and sign the final agreement. The project will then last for the next ten years.
Dennis Åsberg says Portobello in Panama was for several centuries, from the 1500s to the 1700s, the port where the Spanish ships were loaded with gold and diamonds that were to be shipped to Europe.
He would not go into the exact shipping or treasure they expect to find - more than the wrecks are incredibly valuable.
The Indians have an eye on the wrecks, but they have not had the resources or opportunities. They did not dare let any American or European companies salvage them because they have been afraid of being cheated.
Sure, we will make good money on this, but our task is to salvage and return the treasure to the proper owners, the Indians. It is a great honor, says Åsberg.
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Avah LaSage (right), 6, and Rivkah Valley (left), 7, pan for fool's gold in part the new Treasure exhibit at the Discovery Center in Concord; Friday afternoon, January 25, 2012. It was the girls' first time at the Discovery Center. Their mothers Tavia LaSage and Kathy Valley homeschool them and said they will definately be spending more time at the museum in the future.
SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff
By MELANIE PLENDA For the Monitor
CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE - Whether it be gold stashed at the bottom of the briny blue or the dusty knick knack in your grandma’s hope chest, treasures can be found anywhere and can be anything.
The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center will host the exhibit “Treasure!” over the next several months, exploring the history of treasure, treasure hunting, the stories behind the people who go on the hunt as well as the latest in technology that helps hunters find their cache.
“We thought this would be a cool exhibit to get,” said Timothy Taber, education coordinator of exhibits at the center. “It’s something a little bit different than something we would normally do and has a lot of fun interactive things.”
The exhibit includes themes such as underwater treasure, buried treasure, gold rush, treasure in the attic, geocaching and metal detecting among others. Each of the themes also has corresponding hands-on activity that allows kids to try treasure hunting.
“We had a lot of fun,” said Sarah Ricker Foynes, a mom who posted on the museum’s Facebook page. “My kids especially liked shooting the cannon balls and using the metal detectors.”
The exhibit also features actual artifacts from shipwrecks and other treasure sites, officials said, and visitors can go on a real hunt for a treasure chest inside the exhibit.
“When they designed this exhibit, they wanted to cover several different ways that people view treasure,” Taber said.
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