December 24, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015 - No comments

18th Century Artefacts Seized from a Bahamas Flagged Ship

The Odyssey Explorer (midground) in Falmouth Docks, UK.
The salvage vessel belongs to Odyssey Marine Exploration,
and is used in the exploration of underwater wreck sites. 
Authorities in Limassol, Cyprus have confiscated the cargo of a Bahamas-flagged ship which has been moored at Limassol harbour since December 17, after finding evidence of suspected illegal removal of antiquities.  Acting on information provided anonymously to both the Transport and Foreign Ministries of the Cypriot authorities, police on Wednesday secured a seizure warrant for the cargo of the ‘Odyssey Explorer’, a vessel owned by the deep-ocean exploration firm, Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., (NasdaqCM: OMEX).  The Florida-based American private treasure hunting firm was founded in 1994 and is known for its underwater recovery of shipwrecks including the HMS Victory, the S Republic, the SS Gairsoppaand the SS Central America, as well as shipwreck salvage operations involving third-century BC Punic sites and recovery of WWII casualties.  

In 2012 Odyssey Marine Exploration set a record for the deepest and heaviest cargo recovery from a shipwreck to date involving the recovery of the SS Gairsoppa.  During that operation, its team retrieved 48 tons of silver from the vessel which sank in 1941 in waters more than 15,000 feet deep. 

Odyssey Marine Exploration currently has several shipwreck projects in various stages of development around the world, including the jurisdictionally disputed Black Swan Project a recovery operation purported to be the richest haul ever retrieved from a shipwreck to date.  Th e value of that recovery has been estimated to value of $500 million (£314 million).   However the rights to the finds of the wrecked 19th Century Spanish vessel, ‘Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes’, are being contested as the Spanish believe the wreck lays within Spanish territorial waters whereas Odyssey contends the shipwreck was recovered in “international waters” west of the Straits of Gibraltar. 

Assisted by the Cypriot antiquities authority and customs officials, Port and Marine police boarded the ‘Odyssey Explorer’ this week in Cyprus and searched the ship's locked hold finding 57 plastic containers, several which contained artefacts dating to approximately to the 18th century.  Some of the objects clearly appeared to have been recently retrieved from an underwater site.   

Many of the objects seized were found submerged in desalinated water, a technique common in the preservation of objects retrieved from underwater archaeological sites as once a submerged artifact leaves its sea water resting place and is exposed to the air, it must undergo an immediate stabilization process to prevent further deterioration.  

Artifacts found submerged in ocean water pose the greatest challenge to preserve and underwater conservators often utilize specially constructed vats for desalination and conservation, using a series of static water baths to lower the salt levels within the encrustation of the objects.   The fact that this technique was being used by the salvage team on the objects confiscated lends evidence that the material retrieved is quite recent. 

As the ship had been out to sea prior to birthing on December 17th, it is not known if any or all of the antiquities discovered on board were of Cypriot origin.   Reports suggest that the most consistent position of the vessel's recovery work was some 60 km due west of Beirut in the Lebanese Economic Zone.   Some have stated that the investigation was initiated by the Cypriot Government at the request of Lebanon authorities.   Some believe the sailing ship being recovered was the "Napreid", which sank to the bottom of the sea near Beirut and contained gold and silver coins, cylinders and sixty cases of other antiquities shipped on an ill-fated Austrian ship which caught fire and sunk 50 miles off of the coast of Syria.

The Eastern Mediterranean and Levant have long been an established maritime highway where ship wrecks of any period might contain cargoes which could be appealing to recovery operations.

As a result of the seizure Odyssey Marine Exploration has issued the following statement.
“Odyssey Marine Exploration has been conducting a deep -ocean archaeological project in the Eastern Mediterranean under contract. The project has been conducted legally and Odyssey has not conducted any operations in Cypriot waters. Any statements to the contrary are false.  The shipwreck on which the company has been conducting an archaeological operation appears to be a cargo vessel dating to the early to mid-17th century (1600-1650) with a primary cargo of agricultural goods, porcelain, glazed pottery and other trade cargo. The site is not identifiable by name nor country of origin. The project design anticipates full publication of the results of the operation and exhibit of the recovered artifacts. 
We understand the actions taken by the local authorities were based on a false report. Odyssey is fully cooperating and the company is confident the authorities will quickly confirm that Odyssey was neither working in Cypriot waters nor recovering ancient artefacts. 
On this project, Odyssey is subject to a non-disclosure agreement under the contract and cannot provide further details.”