Odyssey Marine to recover Victory, but lose ‘Black Swan’ treasure

Last seen somewhere off the Irish coast, US company Odyssey Marine Exploration have announced that they have “executed an agreement with the Maritime Heritage Foundation for the financing, archaeological survey and excavation, conservation and exhibit of HMS Victory (1744) and artifacts from the shipwreck site.”  

That’s Admiral Balchin’s HMS Victory a 100-gun first-rate ship of the line lost in 1744 in the English Channel.

It confirms an earlier report in the Sunday Times.  There may be four tonnes of gold and silver coins in the vicinity of the wreck…

Odyssey Marine found the wreck site back in 2008 and, in cooperation with the UK Ministry of Defence, recovered a 42 pounder and 12 pounder bronze cannon – after a little legal flurry Odyssey and the UK Government came to an arrangement.

Although there has been no sign, so far, of the Victory ‘bonanza’, the agreement covers the potential recovery of “any private property including coins”.  From the Odyssey Marine press release

The agreement calls for Odyssey’s project costs to be reimbursed and for Odyssey to be paid a percentage of the recovered artifacts’ fair value. The preferred option is for Odyssey to be compensated in cash. However, if the Foundation determines, based on the principles adopted for its own collection management and curation policy, that it is in its best interest to de-accession certain artifacts, the Foundation may choose to compensate Odyssey with artifacts in lieu of cash.

  • Odyssey will receive the equivalent of 80% of the fair value of artifacts which were primarily used in trade or commerce or were private property and bear no direct connection to the construction, navigation, defense or crew of the ship, such as coins or other cargo.
  • Odyssey will receive the equivalent of 50% of the fair value of all other objects typically associated with the construction, crewing and sailing of ships including, but not limited to, the ship’s hull, fittings, fasteners, construction elements, clothing, organic remains, foodstuffs, cooking utensils, pottery, weapons, ammunition, ground tackle and navigational equipment.
  • For any private property including coins or other cargo administered through the Receiver of Wreck, the Foundation has agreed that Odyssey shall receive 80% of the value.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports an update on the long-running saga of the treasure of the ‘Black Swan’, aka the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish vessel that perished in 1804.  I mentioned it in detail in this post from September last year.

From the Guardian report

It is one of the greatest underwater treasure troves of all time, a glittering haul of gold and silver recovered from a mysterious sunken Spanish galleon and secretly flown across the Atlantic to the US.

But now an epic battle over ownership of 594,000 gold and silver coins scattered on the ocean floor has ended with victory for the Spanish government, with the American treasure-hunter Odyssey Marine Exploration ordered to send the valuable haul back home.

A jubilant Spanish government announced on Wednesday that the $500m-worth (£308m) of gold and silver coins found at a site that Odyssey called “Black Swan” would be back on Spanish soil within 10 days.

“This sentence gives Spaniards back what was already theirs,” said the culture minister, José Ignacio Wert. “There is a space of 10 days in which the coins must be returned.”

The court decision puts an end to nearly five years of intrigue on the high seas since Odyssey scooped the precious haul from the Atlantic seabed in May 2007. To the fury of Spanish authorities it secretly landed the trove in Gibraltar and flew it out in chartered aircraft to its base in Florida.

Odyssey Marine haven’t noted that ruling on their website yet.  But a spokeswoman for the company is quoted in the Guardian report

A spokeswoman for Odyssey, Laura Barton, indicated an appeal might be forthcoming. “Currently, there is no final order from the court to give the Black Swan coins to Spain,” she told the Guardian without giving further details.

“It is certainly reasonable to assume that should the cargo recovered by Odyssey be transferred to Spain, it will never be returned,” the exploration company had argued before the appeals court.

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