Estimated $500M Haul
By MITCH STACY, Associated Press Writer
Wed May 18, 07
Fla. - Deep-sea explorers said Friday they have
mined what could be the richest shipwreck treasure
in history, bringing home 17 tons of colonial-era
silver and gold coins from an undisclosed site
in the Atlantic Ocean. Estimated value: $500
A jet chartered by Tampa-based Odyssey Marine
Exploration landed in the United States recently
with hundreds of plastic containers brimming
with coins raised from the ocean floor, Odyssey
co-chairman Greg Stemm said. The more than 500,000
pieces are expected to fetch an average of $1,000
each from collectors and investors.
"For this colonial era, I think (the find)
is unprecedented," said rare coin expert
Nick Bruyer, who examined a batch of coins from
the wreck. "I don't know of anything equal
or comparable to it."
Citing security concerns, the company declined
to release any details about the ship or the
wreck site Friday.
In this photo provided by Odyssey
Marine Exploration, Odyssey co-founder Greg
Stemm, left, examines coins recovered from the
'Black Swan' shipwreck with an unidentified
member of the conservation team Thursday, May
17, 2007, at an undisclosed location. (AP Photo/Odyssey
Stemm said a formal
announcement will come later, but court records indicate
the coins might come from a 400-year-old ship found
Because the shipwreck was found in a lane where many
colonial-era vessels went down, there is still some
uncertainty about its nationality, size and age, Stemm
said, although evidence points to a specific known
shipwreck. The site is beyond the territorial waters
or legal jurisdiction of any country, he said.
"Rather than a shout of glee, it's more being
able to exhale for the first time in a long time,"
Stemm said of the haul, by far the biggest in Odyssey's
He wouldn't say if the loot was taken from the same
wreck site near the English Channel that Odyssey recently
petitioned a federal court for permission to salvage.
In seeking exclusive rights to that site, an Odyssey
attorney told a federal judge last fall that the company
likely had found the remains of a 17th-century merchant
vessel that sank with valuable cargo aboard, about
40 miles off the southwestern tip of England. A judge
signed an order granting those rights last month.
In keeping with the secretive nature of the project
dubbed "Black Swan," Odyssey also isn't
talking yet about the types, denominations and country
of origin of the coins.
Bruyer said he observed a wide range of varieties
and dates of likely uncirculated currency in much
better condition than artifacts yielded by most shipwrecks
of a similar age.
The Black Swan coins —
mostly silver pieces — likely will fetch several
hundred dollars to several thousand dollars each,
with some possibly commanding much more, he said.
Value is determined by rarity, condition and the story
Controlled release of the coins into the market along
with their expected high value to collectors likely
will keep prices at a premium, he said.
The richest ever shipwreck haul was yielded by the
Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha, which sank
in a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622. Treasure-hunting
pioneer Mel Fisher found it in 1985, retrieving a
reported $400 million in coins and other loot.
Odyssey likely will return to the same spot for more
coins and artifacts.
"We have treated this site with kid gloves and
the archaeological work done by our team out there
is unsurpassed," Odyssey CEO John Morris said.
"We are thoroughly documenting and recording
the site, which we believe will have immense historical
The news is timely for Odyssey, the only publicly
traded company of its kind.
The company salvaged more than 50,000 coins and other
artifacts from the wreck of the SS Republic off Savannah,
Ga., in 2003, making millions. But Odyssey posted
losses in 2005 and 2006 while using its expensive,
state-of-the-art ships and deep-water robotic equipment
to hunt for the next mother lode.
"The outside world now understands that what
we do is a real business and is repeatable and not
just a lucky one shot deal," Stemm said. "I
don't know of anybody else who has hit more than one
economically significant shipwreck."
In January, Odyssey won permission from the Spanish
government to resume a suspended search for the wreck
of the HMS Sussex, which was leading a British fleet
into the Mediterranean Sea for a war against France
in 1694 when it sank in a storm off Gibraltar.
Historians believe the 157-foot warship was carrying
nine tons of gold coins to buy the loyalty of the
Duke of Savoy, a potential ally in southeastern France.
Odyssey believes those coins could also fetch more
than $500 million.
But under the terms of a historic agreement Odyssey
will have to share any finds with the British government.
The company will get 80 percent of the first $45 million
and about 50 percent of the proceeds thereafter.