Thursday, April 21, 2005

HMS Sussex Treasure Hunt suspended

After Spanish objection

Odyssey Marine Exploration is to suspend its mission to recover lost treasure off Gibraltar from HMS Sussex despite reporting that it has received positive preliminary comments from Spain relating to the shipwreck site.

Odyssey’s Spanish counsel received a report that indicated that after high-level intergovernmental meetings planned for later this month, the company should be able to resume work on the Sussex with the cooperation of the appropriate authorities. The pressure to hold up the project has come from the Junta de Andalucia which claims a right to a say in the proceedings.

“In the spirit of cooperation, Odyssey is going to continue suspension of operations on the Sussex to provide time for these meetings and to continue discussions with the Spanish, UK and US governments relative to sovereign warship issues,” said a company statement.

Odyssey’s 251’ deep-ocean archaeological platform has continued to work in the western Mediterranean, inspecting and conducting preliminary excavations on several shipwreck sites located recently by the Research Vessel RV Odyssey.

By the end of April, it is anticipated that sufficient preliminary survey work will have been accomplished on at least three of the shipwrecks located in the western Mediterranean to provide Odyssey’s research department sufficient artifacts and information to determine whether to continue excavations.

After finishing preliminary excavations on these shipwrecks, the Odyssey Explorer will either continue the Sussex operations, or begin work on sites discovered in their 2005 search program, code-named the “Atlas” project.

“We can work on the Sussex any time of year and it’s presently protected from anyone else by our exclusive agreement with the UK. Most targets in our “Atlas” search area typically only afford a weather window through the fall, so it makes sense to move there while we continue to cooperate with the UK and Spanish governments in planning the Sussex operation and other cooperative efforts”, commented Greg Stemm, Odyssey’s co-founder. “We’d all like to see the Sussex moving ahead as scheduled, but we have other projects that could prove as valuable to Odyssey as the potential of the Sussex, and we do not believe they are subject to sovereign immunity, which moves them to the top of our list.”

“Our goal over the long run is to become the world’s leading shipwreck exploration firm, in part by providing deep-ocean cultural heritage management services to governments of the world, in addition to our own private projects,” added John Morris, Odyssey’s co-founder and CEO.

“While we believe operations could legally resume on the Sussex at this time, the long-term growth of the Company is best served by cooperating with the UK and Spain to show our good faith and ability to allow for cooperation on sovereign immune shipwrecks. The Sussex is a UK Government partnering project and it’s up to us to prove we are willing to be sufficiently diplomatic to allow for complex political issues to be dealt with on a reasonable basis. We’ve got enough projects on our plate right now to allow us to be flexible.”

Odyssey’s “Atlas” Project includes five high-value shipwreck targets which are beyond any countries’ territorial waters and are not believed to be subject to sovereign immunity, so they can be archaeologically excavated immediately upon their discovery. At least two may have potential value on par with the estimated value of the Sussex. The search will be undertaken from a 230-foot survey ship, which Odyssey has leased with an option to purchase, specially outfitted with a newly designed search system that allows Odyssey to search twice the area at double the resolution of all previously employed search technologies.

Until the Sussex project is resumed, the Odyssey Explorer and Odyssey’s new search ship will both work on the “Atlas” search program. One ship will concentrate on search efforts while the other ship investigates and excavates targets. With both ships working together, it is possible the primary search area believed to hold these five targets could be searched by late autumn 2005.

For the time being, the 113-foot RV Odyssey will remain in Gibraltar to perform additional work in the Mediterranean, and may perform additional work on the Sussex site in the absence of the Odyssey Explorer.

Related Links: Ship set for Sussex Treasure hunt

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