A Victory bonanza?

HMS VictoryThe reports of the discovery of the wreck of 18th Century 100-gun first-rate ship of the line HMS Victory, flagship of Admiral Sir John Balchen, in the English Channel by marine exploration company Odyssey Marine Exploration raise the prospect of also finding it’s reported cargo of four tonnes of gold and silver coins – now being estimated as worth anything up to $1 billion (€0.79 billion). The Discovery Channel has footage of the retrieval of one of the cannons and other information, including a timeline. The New York Times reports that the initial discovery of the wreck identified as HMS Victory, lost at sea in 1744, was made last April and the LA Times reports that just two bricks and two cannons have been retrieved, so far. According to Odyssey’s press release

Odyssey has been cooperating closely with the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) on the project, and all activities at the site have been conducted in accordance with protocols agreed with MOD and Royal Navy officials. Terms of collaboration between Odyssey and the UK MOD on the project are currently being negotiated, and an agreement similar to the Sussex Partnering Agreement has been proposed.

However Odyssey is currently being sued by the Spanish government over a previous treasure of “17 tonnes of silver coins plus a few hundred gold coins”, discovered at a wreck in 2007, and shipped to the US.

In response the Spanish government has repeatedly intercepted Odyssey vessels. Interestingly Odyssey are disputing Spain’s claim of ‘sovereign immunity’ for that wreck, also found in international waters.

The Independent reports the argument – “Intrepid treasure hunters – or archeological vandals?”

And the Telegraph notes the reason for the focus on ‘sovereign immunity’.

The International Convention on Salvage 1989 ruled that shipwrecks found in international waters were, effectively, a free-for-all, as the ownership of treasure would be determined by whichever country it was taken to (and many countries operate a “finders keepers” policy).

But a crucial exception to this rule is the case of so-called sovereign immune vessels – in other words, state-owned ships such as naval vessels (including the Mercedes). These remain the property of their home nation. In those cases, salvage crews must offer their loot to its original owner, which is obliged to pay them a handsome salvage fee of 50 to 80 per cent of its value.

It is this law which has caused controversy in the case of Victory, which remains the property of the Royal Navy. The Ministry of Defence is understood to have struck a deal with Odyssey, which will reward the company with a sliding scale of payments for the finds, including 40 bronze cannon, said to be worth £30,000 each (there has been no mention so far of the fate of the Portuguese gold, worth up to £700 million at today’s prices).

And the report adds..

All of which might sound entirely shipshape, if it weren’t for the small matter of the Unesco Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, which the Government agreed to abide by in 2005. The Convention states that sites should be left undisturbed wherever possible, and that any artefacts recovered should not be offered for sale.

According to the timeline at Discovery, the first report of the existance of the coinage on Victory appears to have been the Dutch financial publication, Amsterdamsche Courant, dated November 18/19, 1744 – “People will have it that on board of the Victory was a sum of 400,000 pounds sterling that it had brought from Lisbon for our merchants.”

The cargo is believed to have most likely consisted of gold coins minted in Portugal and Brazil, along with other colonial coinage.

Additionally, it is also believed that large quantities of both silver and gold coins were aboard Victory taken from enemy prize ships.

Adds A potential related, in terms of interest, post – “The Great Girona Gold Hunt”

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  • NCM

    Let’s see… 1,000 of these treasure ships equals the Wall Street bailout package…

  • joeCanuck

    The Convention states that sites should be left undisturbed wherever possible, and that any artefacts recovered should not be offered for sale.

    But aren’t Odyssey simply returning the artifacts to the rightful owner, not selling them. They obviously should be compensated for their work, both discovery and recovery. It’s unrealistic to leave these artifacts in situ. Someone else will just come along and “steal” them.

  • joeCanuck

    Oh and anyone who hasn’t gone to see the Girona Collection should put it on their To-Do list.
    I didn’t realise the Ulster Museum was closed for the new addition. When does it reopen? It’s one of Belfast’s jewels (no pun intended).

  • Pete Baker

    Joe

    That’s a fair point on the cannons.

    But I’d suggest an archeologist’s concern would be that the retrieval of those valuable items is the objective of this company, potentially at the expense of other items that may be of significance to the historical period – to conditions on board, for example, or other records from the time which may be at the wreck.

    And that reported agreement doesn’t include any possible coinage finds – although that appears to be currently under discussion.

    Of course the Spanish Government would entirely disagree with your point..

    And the legal dispute over ‘sovereign immunity’ should, perhaps, be a red flag to the UK government.

  • Greagoir O Frainclin

    Ah …Did anyone build the Airfix version of this battle ship. Come on Unionist contributers, own up, don’t tell me yez never built this ship of the British “Armada”

    BTW, Down south in the “Irish Republic” we have an Irish Reporter for RTE NEWS that happens to have a Great, Great, Great, Grand Father who served with Admiral Nelson and who happened to be an Admiral of the British Navy, as well as a Great Great Grand Father (his son) who happened to be an also an Admiral of the British Navy.
    Now, Noel Thompson and Julien Simmons beat that!

  • Pete Baker

    Greagoir

    Wrong Victory.