[<<<] [Project 0] [>>>]
"British Approve Plan to Recover Treasure Ship"
British Approve Plan to Recover Treasure Ship
trefwoorden: 17e eeuw - onderwaterarcheologie -
After months of review, the British government has given final approval for the recovery of a 17th-century shipwreck believed to contain history's richest sunken treasure.
British officials said that they would announce their approval this week of the recovery plan — the endeavor's last legal hurdle — and that the recovery team said deep-sea excavation would begin this summer.
The reviews dealt with criticism from British experts who said they worried that the public-private recovery plan might not be up to scholarly standards, officials said.
The British government believes the excavation site contains the wreckage of H.M.S. Sussex, which went down in a storm in 1694 with gold coins on board. Today, experts said, the cargo could fetch perhaps as much as $4 billion.
The warship, with its 80 guns and 500 men, was leading a large British fleet into the Mediterranean to fight a war against France and its expansionist agenda under Louis XIV, the Sun King. The gold was to buy the loyalty of the Duke of Savoy, a shaky ally on France's southeastern flank who controlled important invasion routes to and from Paris.
The ship sank in waters a half mile deep. The finders of its putative resting place will publicly identify the site only as off Gibraltar.
Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. of Tampa, Fla., found what the British authorities believe to be the wreckage of the Sussex during four expeditions from 1998 to 2001. It is a disintegrating mound rich in cannons, anchors and other artifacts. In September, the company signed an agreement with the British government to raise its remains from the bottom of the Mediterranean and split the proceeds. Under maritime law, a sunken warship remains the property of the owner state.
With its recovery plan approved on Thursday, Odyssey is now gearing up for an expedition this summer. A large vessel is to hover over the mound and send down a tethered robot to map the site and clear away debris. The robot, equipped with bright lights and arms, will move artifacts and ship parts to lifting baskets for transport to the surface.
"This will be the deepest archaeological excavation of a shipwreck ever undertaken," said Greg Stemm, Odyssey's director of operations. "We are excited to be working with the government of the United Kingdom on this historic project."
Last year in Britain, some archaeologists and politicians criticized the for-profit deal as potentially damaging to British interests, leading to a delay in carrying out the accord.
George Lambrick, director of the Council for British Archaeology, an educational group based in York, England, asked if the British authorities were really committed to protecting underwater heritage "or are just in it for the money." Some members of Parliament faulted the accord as "a treasure-hunting contract" and questioned whether it served the interests of history and archaeology.
Mr. Stemm said the critics had never seen the plan and were unable to judge its soundness. In any event, their objections proved insufficient to kill the deal.
This week, British and company officials said, the two parties are to announce the government's approval of a modified version of Odyssey's original recovery plan. The plan details the approved means of artifact recovery and archaeological investigation. Officials said the plan, 107 pages long, would be kept confidential, in part to protect the site.
The original accord, signed in September, called for the recovery plan to be completed in 100 days, or by early January.
"We've listened to them carefully," Geoff Reakes, a British Ministry of Defense official, said of the critics. "We've used their wise counsel and are building in an executive body to address their concerns."
Odyssey's plan, officials said, went through two drafts and five months of analysis and comment by the British government and its advisers. In the end, the parties agreed to two amendments relating to conservation of artifacts and remediation of the site after the excavation was completed.
The plan also features a new advisory body meant to oversee the recovery team and maintain high archaeological standards. The four-member body is named the Sussex Archaeological Executive. Odyssey and the British government will each appoint two members.
"The process we have followed gives our government greater comfort that this project will be accomplished professionally, and to best archaeological practice," M. W. Robinson, a Defense Ministry official who led the talks, said in a statement. "Since this partnering arrangement is a first for us, we are endeavoring to establish the right framework."
Odyssey, which has long experience in deep-water recoveries, said the Sussex work was to start as soon as financing was completed and the appropriate vessel, gear and personnel were mobilized. No problems are foreseen.
The partnership is to split the profits or appraised values of the recovered coins on a sliding scale that favors Odyssey at first and then the government. Odyssey is to get 80 percent of the proceeds up to $45 million, 50 percent from $45 million to $500 million and 40 percent above $500 million. The British government gets the rest.
The agreement calls for archaeological integrity — a difficult feat a half-mile down. Even if that turns out to be feasible, many archaeologists abhor the sale of recovered artifacts, saying it inhibits scholarly analysis and public display.
Responding to such criticism, the partnership agreement draws a distinction between classes of artifacts, saying cultural items like the ship's tools, cannons and navigational gear have a greater archaeological value than its cargo of coins. These, it says, can be sold to help defray the millions of dollars in costs that Odyssey will accrue from locating and recovering the remains of the Sussex.
"We want this to be acceptable to everybody," John C. Morris, Odyssey's president, said of the accord with the British government.
It is necessary, he added, "to make this stand out" as a successful collaboration to pave the way for the recovery of other valuable shipwrecks.
New York Times, 25 mei 2003