Saturday, 25th February 2012
Odyssey seeks to rebuild relationship with Spain
by Brian Reyes
The US company that recovered the world’s most valuable and controversial underwater treasure said yesterday that it would seek to rebuild its relationship with the Spanish government.
Odyssey Marine Exploration believes that an ongoing project in partnership with Britain to excavate the wreck of HMS Victory could provide the template for future work with other countries, including Spain.
The development came as two Spanish military planes prepared to fly 17 tonnes of silver coins from the US to Spain this weekend, bringing to a close a convoluted saga over the so-called Black Swan treasure.
Odyssey recovered the coins in 2007 in international waters off Portugal and flew them to its Florida base from Gibraltar, sparking a bitter legal row with Spain in the process.
Odyssey lost at every stage in the US courts and this month, after five years of courtroom wrangling, a US judge ordered the company to hand over the $500m haul to Spain.
On Friday, two Spanish air force Hercules transport planes were expected to fly from Florida under high security carrying the coins to Spain.
A decade ago the company enjoyed a good relationship with the Spanish government and even carried Spanish navy observers on board its flagship vessel, Odyssey Explorer, while it conducted underwater surveys off the Spanish coast.
But that relationship soured when the Junta de Andalucia took umbrage at the company’s activities, and worsened progressively after the PSOE won the general election in 2004 and the Junta’s heritage chief, Carmen Calvo, became culture minister in Madrid.
Critics of Odyssey argue that the company puts profit above archaeology and heritage protection.
In the Mercedes case, Spain accused the company of plundering a national heritage site and dubbed Odyssey modern-day pirates.
But the company countered that its work adhered to strict archaeological protocols and standards.
It said business and archaeology could coexist and be mutually beneficial, arguing that without the efforts of companies like Odyssey, deep sea underwater heritage would never be recovered and might otherwise be lost.
The project to excavate HMS Victory could provide the model for future cooperation with governments.
It also underscores the risks of not acting to recover underwater heritage which might otherwise deteriorate and, ultimately, be lost.
Odyssey has entered an agreement with the Maritime Heritage Foundation for the financing, archaeological survey and excavation, conservation and exhibit of HMS Victory (1744) and artefacts 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.