Odyssey Marine’s “Irish project” – redux

Having told the Irish Times previously that they had “been working off the Irish coast, but outside territorial waters”, US company Odyssey Marine Exploration have announced a second silver cargo shipwreck discovery – the SS Mantola with an estimated 600,000 ounces of silver on board, worth approximately £12million at current market values. 

Attacked 143 miles west-south-west off Fastnet by German U-boat U-81 on 8 February 1917, the Clydebuilt database account has the Mantola sinking in rough seas on 9 February after an attempt by HMS Laburnum to take her under tow failed.

According to the Odyssey Marine press release

In September 2011, the UK Government Department for Transport awarded Odyssey a salvage contract for the cargo of the SS Mantola. Under the agreement, Odyssey will retain 80% of the net salved silver value recovered.

“The incremental costs to search for the Mantola were low, as this was a contingency project in the event that our team successfully completed the Gairsoppa search early,” said Mark Gordon Odyssey President and COO. “We are planning to conduct the recovery expedition in conjunction with the Gairsoppa recovery, which will also make the operation very cost efficient. Securing our ownership rights prior to recovery and funding our business from cash-flow produced from operations has been a key focus for us.

The announcement of the discovery of the wreck site of the SS Gairsoppa, some “300 miles off the coast of Ireland in international waters”, was noted previously.

As the Irish Times marine correspondent, Lorna Siggins, reports

Odyssey Marine Exploration confirmed last night it had located the SS Mantola, a British ship which sank on February 9th, 1917, after it was torpedoed by a German submarine. The company did not give the position of the wreck, but it is known to have sunk 143 miles west-southwest of the Fastnet Rock within the 200-mile Irish exclusive economic zone. [added emphasis]

Odyssey said the SS Mantola was lying in 2,500m of water “approximately 100 miles” from the SS Gairsoppa.

The wikipedia entry on “territorial waters” notes the legal distinction between territorial waters, or sea, and international waters, as well as the exlusive economic zone.

As the Irish Times report goes on to say

The company said it “also has several other projects and contracts that . . . may be conducted through the winter months”. The company has been surveying southwest Irish waters where there are “commodity” wrecks.

The Naval Service said it notified the company’s research ship Odyssey Explorer that it should inform the Irish authorities when it came across the vessel surveying some 25 miles west of the Blasket Islands, Co Kerry, on August 2nd.

Under international law, a ship undertaking scientific research should inform the relevant state. However, Odyssey has said that searching for wrecks is exempt from this. Wrecks of less than 100 years old are not protected by Ireland’s National Monuments Act.

This time, I think Odyssey Marine might have a point.  [Adds – In the exclusive economic zone the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is mostly concerned with rights and jurisdiction concerning the exploration and exploitation, conservation and manangement of natural resources.]

As I mentioned in the comment here

The linked post is about a different theatre, but this quote sums up the situation as I understand it.

A Coastal State does not acquire ownership of a sunken state vessel by reason of its being located on, or embedded in, land or the seabed over which it exercises sovereignty or jurisdiction. However, access to such sunken state vessels within a Coastal State’s archipelagic waters, territorial sea or contiguous zone, is subject to Coastal State control under international law. Access to sunken vessels beyond the limits stated in the preceding sentence is subject to Flag State control even though they may be still within a Coastal State’s Exclusive Economic Zone.” [added emphasis]

Although Article 58 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea does point out that

Rights and duties of other States in the exclusive economic zone

1. In the exclusive economic zone, all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy, subject to the relevant provisions of this Convention, the freedoms referred to in article 87 of navigation and overflight and of the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms, such as those associated with the operation of ships, aircraft and submarine cables and pipelines, and compatible with the other provisions of this Convention.

2. Articles 88 to 115 and other pertinent rules of international law apply to the exclusive economic zone in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.

3. In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.  [added emphasis]

And as Article 258 states

The deployment and use of any type of scientific research installations or equipment in any area of the marine environment shall be subject to the same conditions as are prescribed in this Convention for the conduct of marine scientific research in any such area. [added emphasis]

I don’t see any exemptions mentioned.

Adds  And from the Odyssey Marine SS Mantola operational overview, scientific research equipment was definitely deployed.

The shipwreck was located using the MAK-1M (deep-tow low frequency sonar system), aboard the chartered Russian research vessel RV Yuzhmorgeologiya. Visual inspection and identification of the site was conducted with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from the Odyssey Explorer.