Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Gibraltar clash over HMS Sussex treasure - The Guardian

The Strait of Gibraltar has been the scene of numerous skirmishes between the British and Spanish navies, and now the two nations are sparring again - this time over the wreck of an English warship packed to the gunwales with treasure.

According to The Guardian newspaper on Monday, HMS Sussex has lain undisturbed on the seabed for more than 300 years, but since researchers discovered the ship was carrying billions of pounds of English gold and silver, it has become the focus of a bitter dispute as the Spanish authorities try to frustrate the attempts of a private company to locate it and start salvage work on behalf of Britain.

The newspaper reported that international law gives UK authorities jurisdiction over the wrecks of British ships wherever they might lie, and this month the UK government gave permission to an American exploration company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, to salvage the Sussex. But according to The Guardian the regional government of Andalucía claims that Odyssey also needs permission from Spain to carry out exploration in Spanish waters and has sent out coastal patrols to disrupt the salvage operation.

The Sussex sank with 12 other ships when a storm blew up on their first night out of Gibraltar. The ship was swamped as its commander, Admiral Sir Francis Wheeler, tried to avoid being swept on to the rocks. The admiral’s body was washed up on a Spanish beach two days later. Documents uncovered in 1995 revealed that the ship was carrying a payment for the Duke of Savoy, a key ally in Britain’s war against the French.

The Guardian reported that it was estimated that the treasure it carried would be worth more than £2bn today.

It further reported that, “Odyssey has struck a deal with the British under which it can keep a share of the treasure in return for conducting the salvage operation. It will get 80% of the first £45m recovered, half of everything up to £500m and 40% of everything above that. Shares in the company have nearly doubled in price over the past month.”

According to the report Odyssey’s explorers have combed 400 square miles of the Mediterranean seabed using sonar equipment and deep-water robots discovering 418 possible targets, including Roman and Phoenician ships more than 2,000 years old. But only one of the wrecks had cannons.

“Odyssey is confident it has the right wreck, but other archaeologists have expressed doubts. The Guardia Civil has sent out patrols to disrupt the operation,” further claimed the report.


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