The Ministry of Defense is facing a legal battle and parliamentary questions after letting a US company excavate a British 18th-century warship laden with a potentially lucrative cargo.
Lord Renfrew is among leading archaeologists condemning a deal struck over HMS Victory, considered the world’s mightiest ship when she sank in the Channel in 1744.
In return for excavating the vessel’s historic remains, which may include gold and silver worth many millions of pounds, Odyssey Marine Exploration is entitled to receive “a percentage of the recovered artefacts’ fair value” or “artefacts in lieu of cash”.
Lord Renfrew, a Cambridge academic, said: “That is against the Unesco convention, in particular against the annexe, which states that underwater cultural heritage may not be sold off or exploited for commercial gain. Odyssey is a commercial salvager. It’s not clear that payment could be obtained other than by the sale of the artefacts which are raised – which, of course, is how Odyssey has operated in the past. To raise artefacts simply for sale would be regarded by most responsible archaeologists as plundering.” Read more.
Odyssey Marine Exploration, a pioneer in the field of deep-ocean shipwreck exploration and archaeology, reached 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.
HMS Victory was a British First Rate Warship that sank during a storm in 1744 while under the command of Admiral Sir John Balchin.
In 2008, Odyssey discovered HMS Victory and is salvor-in-possession of the wreck. After a period of joint consultation between the U.K. Ministry of Defence and the U.K. Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and a public consultation period, the remains of HMS Victory were transferred to the Maritime Heritage Foundation in January.
Now salvage operations can begin. (source)
The remains of the first HMS Victory are to be raised from the sea bed nearly 300 years after it sank, it has been reported.
The vessel, predecessor of Nelson’s famous flagship, went down in a storm off the Channel Islands in 1744, taking more than 1,000 soldiers to their deaths.
Along with a bronze cannon collection, some believe the ship was carrying a large quantity of gold coins from Lisbon to Britain, which would now be worth a reported £500 million.
According to the Sunday Times, the wreck is to be handed over to the Maritime Heritage Foundation, which is expected to employ Odyssey Marine Exploration to carry out the recovery. The American company found the ship four years ago.
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: “Efforts to protect key parts of British Naval history such as the wreck of HMS Victory 1744 are very welcome and we hope to make an announcement shortly.” Read more.