Holds 200,000 Gold Coins By David L. Ganz,
World Coin News
March 02, 2009
Marine, the southern Florida shipwreck experts that have found
more coin treasures than any other salver, has discovered
the wreck of HMS Victory, it was announced Feb 2.
HMS Victory sank in the English Channel on Oct. 4, 1744,
taking 1,150 sailors and four tons of Portuguese gold to the
bottom of Davy Jones' locker.
About 200,000 gold coins are believed to be part of the treasure,
whose sinking caused a major embarrassment to King George
II in 1744, and whose recovery in 2009 could well become a
cause celebre in international legal circles.
The wreckage of the HMS Victory, found below about 330 feet
of water, may carry an even bigger jackpot than the $500 million
in sunken treasure discovered two years ago off the coast
Research indicates the HMS Victory was carrying 4 tons of
gold coins when it sank in storm, said Greg Stemm, co-founder
of Odyssey Marine Exploration, ahead of a Feb. 2 news conference
So far, two brass cannons have been recovered from the wreck,
Stemm said. The Florida-based company said it is negotiating
with the British government over collaborating on the project.
"This is a big one, just because of the history,'' Stemm
said. "Very rarely do you solve an age-old mystery like
Thirty-one brass cannons and other evidence on the wreck
allowed definitive identification of the HMS Victory, the
175-foot (53-meter) sailing ship that was separated from its
fleet and sank in the English Channel on Oct. 4, 1744, with
at least 900 men aboard, the company said. The ship was the
largest and, with 110 brass cannons, the most heavily armed
vessel of its day. It was the inspiration for the HMS Victory
famously commanded by Adm. Horatio Nelson decades later.
Odyssey was searching for other valuable shipwrecks in the
English Channel when it came across the Victory. Stemm wouldn't
say exactly where the ship was found for fear of attracting
plunderers, though he said it wasn't close to where it was
"We found this more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) from
where anybody would have thought it went down,'' Stemm said.
Federal court records filed by Odyssey in Tampa seeking the
exclusive salvage rights said the site is 25 miles to 40 miles
(40 kilometers to 64 kilometers) from the English coast, outside
of its territorial waters. Odyssey Marine has previously discovered
vessels with treasure that sailed under the flags of Spain,
Peru, England and others.
In order to assert ownership, Odyssey Marine commenced an
action in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District
of Florida, located in Tampa. The technical term is to "arrest"
the vessel, a principal whereby the salver recovers some portion
of the ship or its cargo and brings it before the court. In
this case, it was a brass cannon.
The Victory - the same name was used for Lord Nelson's shop
at Trafalgar generations later - is only called an "Unidentified
vessel" in the title of the complaint, the better to
confuse those who might seek to take the treasure from under
the noses of the competition - other treasure salvers.
Odyssey's claims for salvage rights for other vessels were
asserted under either international law of the sea or the
law of salvage, which sometimes conflict. They are litigating
against the Kingdom of Spain and Republic fo Peru over Spanish
galleons found after a shipwreck in the 17th century.
English shipwrecks have a common law background, different
from the civil law of Spanish countries, which reserve treasure
to the sovereign - and provide that it cannot be salvaged
without the consent of Her Majesty's government. On another
less important wreck, Odyssey got to keep 80 percent of the
first $50 million in salvage value on a diminishing scale
until above $500 million the profits would be split 50-50.
Under international maritime law and the law of the sea,
going back to the time of Hugo Grotius in the year 1600, when
an owner of a vessel abandons it, it may be claimed by anyone
who finds it. When it is not abandoned, a wreck may be salvaged
by anyone who claims it ("arrests" the wreck, in
the arcane language of admiralty law).
They may not necessarily be able to keep the goods, but must
be compensated for the salvage work that they have done
the payment can be quite liberal - if there is a right to
work the vessel and its treasure in the first place.
In most instances, available technology at the time the ships
surrendered to the depths limited the ability to salvage the
ships, rescue persons or property. The situation with the
Mercedes (another Odyssey litigation with Spain) is also similar
to more than 600 other Spanish wrecks that are known to have
populated the East Coast of the United States.
This very factor, and the wreck of other ships, prompted
the U.S. Congress in 1987 to try and regulate control over
the marine tragedies that took place inside the three-mile
limit. Essentially, they were ruled to be owned by the United
States, which in turn delegated the ownership to the individual
The Victory is located in the English Channel, about 60 miles
from its last reported position which solved a historical
mystery - and Odyssey claims that no nation has the right
to regulate who can salvage it. The British Foreign Office
Regardless of the state or nation involved, the general principals
of law are essentially the same. When sunken ships or their
cargo are rescued from the bottom of the ocean by those other
than the owners, courts generally favor applying the law of
salvage over the law of finds.
"Finds" can be summed up by that childish taunt,
Finds law is generally applied, however, where the previous
owners are found to have abandoned their property. Abandonment
must be proved to the Court's satisfaction by clear and convincing
evidence, typically by an owner's express declaration abandoning
title. (It can be proved indirectly through actions, too).
In some instances, a commercial shipments of gold may be
insured, and the underwriters are usually asked to promptly
pay the claims. The payment of the claims vests title to the
gold in the underwriters, who can no more salvage the boat
than the government can.
The position of the Department of State, as expressed in
a Report of the House of Representatives in 1988 is that "the
U.S. only abandons its sovereignty over, and title to, sunken
U.S. warships by affirmative act; mere passage of time or
lack of positive assertions of right are insufficient to establish
A 1902 treaty of friendship and commerce with Spain provided
the key that the Court will look to: "Spanish vessels
can ... be abandoned only by express renunciation. Both Spain
and the United States agree that this treaty provision requires
that in our territorial waters Spanish ships are to be accorded
the same immunity as United States.
So the shipwreck of the century is headed to Tampa and court,
where it will all be sorted out in the coming months. Meanwhile,
the salvers will be looking for the coins that they know are
on board, under 300 feet of the English channel and many pages