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Odyssey Marine and Cameron Peer Out of Control on HMS Victory

HMS Victort 1744 : Wiki Commons

Ministers Jeremy Hunt and Philip Hammond are in the firing line as the Ministry of Defence admits Odyssey Marine Exploration is already preparing to cash in on HMS Victory and the remains of over 1000 British sailors without the permission of the Government.

In a major and disturbing development in the growing HMS Victory scandal, the Ministry of Defence has been forced to admit that the flagship of American commercial salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. the Odyssey Explorer, has been actively preparing to recover artefacts from the wreck site of HMS Victory, the flagship of Admiral Sir John Balchen, lost with all hands in October 1744, even before permission has been given by Government Ministers Jeremy Hunt and Philip Hammond to permit the recovery of artefacts from the ship.

What makes the revelation that Odyssey has jumped the gun on the Minister’s decision even more embarrassing for the Cameron Government is the fact that the un-authorised work may have been sanctioned by Sir Robert Balchin, Lord Lingfield, a close associate of Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt and former senior official in the Conservative Party who was ennobled by Prime Minister David Cameron in December 2010.

Lord Lingfield is chair of Odyssey’s ostensible employers, the charity the Maritime Heritage Foundation which he founded in October 2010 specifically to take control of the wreck of HMS Victory.   In January 2012 the MHF became legal owners of the wreck, although their freedom of action is supposedly strictly controlled by a “Deed of Gift” imposed by the Ministry of Defence to protect the public interest of the United Kingdom over what was formerly a sovereign naval vessel and particularly the remains of over one thousand Royal Navy personnel who died in the sinking and for whose welfare the Ministry of Defence retains responsibility.

The news that Odyssey had pre-empted the decision of Ministers came in a letter from Deputy Command Secretary at Navy Command Portsmouth, Mr Simon Routh to Mr Robert Yorke of the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee [JNAPC].

The JNAPC contacted the Ministry of Defence in response to growing rumours in the archaeological community that Odyssey Explorer was on station over the Victory and could be carrying out the unauthorised recovery of material from the site.

In his letter Mr Routh revealed…

“…there is to date no agreement by Ministers to work on the site. I should add that, following a proposal by the Maritime Heritage Foundation for work to address identified threats to the wreck site, MHF have confirmed that some limited activity has been undertaken to prepare for the potential recovery of artefacts; but no recovery of artefacts has been undertaken…”

This admission would appear to show that both Odyssey and the Maritime Heritage Foundation are in clear breach of the “Deed of Gift”.  The Deed requires Ministerial approval for all works on the site and for all works to comply with UK Government policy which is to uphold the Annex to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, under which excavation and recovery of artefacts is a last resort.

The suspicions of the archaeological community were aroused by the almost continual presence of the Odyssey Explorer over the wreck site during June and July which has led to the inevitable question, what could she be doing when it was known Odyssey was supposedly barred from actually excavating the site and Odyssey CEO Greg Stemm had informed shareholders that an authorised pre-disturbance survey had already been completed by early May?

Suspicion grew even more intense when the Odyssey Explorer issued a notice to mariners ““Underwater operations in progress by M/V Odyssey Explorer – wide berth requested” which suggested she was deploying sub surface equipment such as her Remotely Operated Vehicle [ROV] Zeus which is capable of recovering material in its own right and placing lifting strops around heavier items such as cannon.

However, Mortimer believes Mr Rouths admission may not be the end of the story.  The length of time taken and the deployment of underwater equipment clearly begs the question of just how “limited” the activity is which Odyssey has undertaken?  A suspicion which has only been re-enforced by the fact that, in spite of the site being located in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, the western English Channel, the Odyssey Explorer has repeatedly turned off her AIS transponder.  AIS is an electronic device which allows other vessels, the coastguard and rescue services to follow the ship’s position in real time.  All vessels over 300 tons are required to carry it and turning off a vessel’s transponder, especially in a busy sea lane such as that where the wreck of the Victory lies,  is an action which is a danger to both other mariners and to the Odyssey Explorer’s own crew.

It is clear that Lord Lingfield at least is sensitive to the severe risks his organisation runs now it has been caught blatantly ignoring the terms of the Deed of Gift and anticipating the decisions of Ministers.  As soon as Mr Routh challenged the MHF as to what precisely the Odyssey Explorer was doing the Foundation went into damage limitation mode enabling Mr Routh to report…

“…MHF have confirmed that even this preparatory activity has now stopped in advance of any Ministerial agreement to the proposed work.”

However, how long Odyssey will allow work to be halted, or even whether the company will actually take any notice of the instruction to stop remains to be seen.  With no Ministry of Defence, Department of Culture Media and Sport or English Heritage observers on board the Odyssey Explorer it cannot even be stated as a fact that the unauthorised work has indeed ceased.

It is also unclear whether Odyssey has the required marine licence from the UK’s Marine Management Organisation to carry out ‘marine licensable activities’.  Under the UK’s Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 it is an offence not to possess such a licence, and were an offence to be proven to have taken place penalties consist of a fine up to £50,000 and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

The question arises as to why Odyssey should behave in such an apparently reckless fashion?  Certainly Odyssey has a track record in ignoring local and international law when it suits it.  The most notable being the illegal removal of 17 tons of silver coins from the sovereign Spanish Warship Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes sunk in 1804.  However, this latest episode may as much to do with Odyssey’s imperative to see a financial return from the Victory Project as soon as possible.

Odyssey has accumulated losses of over $120 million is it already deep into what the company’s senior management has repeatedly billed as a key Summer for their business model with huge expenses on three projects and only a limited income stream to show for it so far.

Under a commercial salvage agreement reached with the British Department of Transport, made when the current Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was Transport Minister, Odyssey has succeeded in partially recovering silver bullion from the SS Gairsoppa; a ship which was torpedoed while carrying silver bullion to the UK in 1942.  However, Odyssey needs to show its investors it can maintain a cash flow to service its debts, fund its on-going operations and, maybe even offer its long-suffering small stock holders a dividend.

This is particularly the case since the price of Odyssey’s stock has fallen back sharply after a temporary spike when Odyssey was able to land silver from the Gairsoppa at Avonmouth in mid-July.  Indeed, Odyssey was forced to obtain an emergency $10 million line of credit, secured on the proceeds of the recovery, to finance the completion of the recovery of silver from the Gairsoppa and the companion contract on the SS Mantola, which was also torpedoed while carrying silver bullion, this time during World War One.

Against this uncertain financial background, the promise of monetising Victory is central to confidence in the archaeological arm of Odyssey’s business model, which also comprises commercial shipwreck salvage and underwater mining.  Certainly, financial commentators and posts on US investor message boards shows that, at least up until today, the investors believed the company was actually excavating the HMS Victory site, partly reassured by repeated and arguably erroneous assertions that Odyssey was “salvor in possession” of HMS Victory and that the vessel was carrying a substantial cargo of gold and silver specie.

Odyssey’s problems over the Victory might not just be financial.  The latest revelation also lands Odyssey squarely in the controversy over the Cameron Governments alleged favours to its political supporters.  In particular it highlights the relationship Lord Lingfield and Odyssey have with certain senior Ministers, in particular with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

In May this year Lord Lingfield and Odyssey appeared to prepare for the current situation by using an article in the Sunday Times to claim the site was in immediate danger from trawlers and illegal salvage and also to attack the competence of the statutory archaeological advisor to Hunt’s Department, English Heritage.  In the article Lord Lingfield appeared to appeal directly to Ministers for permission to excavate the Victory, over the heads of the archaeological Advisory Group which is chaired by the Ministry of Defence and is designed to ensure work on HMS Victory follows best practice in archaeological terms and is in compliance with UK Government policy for historic wreck sites, which is to uphold the Annex of the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.  Among other stipulations the UNESCO Convention requires adequate funding to be in place before a project commences and prevents the sale of artefacts.

Then, just this week, Heritage Minister John Penrose revealed in a letter to the JNAPC that Mr Hunt and Lord Lingfield had discussed HMS Victory at an un-minuted constituency meeting as early as the Summer of 2010, while Hunt’s Ministry was still considering responses to a consultation over the future management of HMS Victory.

Although Mr Penrose stated that no decisions were taken at the meeting, Lord Lingfield, who had previously shown absolutely no interest in maritime archaeology, founded the Maritime Heritage Foundation in October 2010, almost a year before the DCMS published its departmental response to the consultation and which recommended a charity should be offered the management of the wreck under a “Deed of Gift.”  Lord Lingfield’s new charity had just two other directors, neither of whom had experience in archaeology or large scale heritage projects and all its advice and even its public relations is provided by Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc.

This pattern of privileged communications with favoured partners and the exclusion of dissenting and regulatory voices is very reminiscent of Mr Hunts conduct over the BSKYB affair and which led him into so much trouble at the Leveson enquiry.

The involvement of Mr Hunt, comes on top of repeated attempts by Lord Lingfield to lobby the Government on behalf of Odyssey, dating back to Lord Lingfield’s response to the DCMS consultation document in June 2010 which was effectively a sales pitch on behalf of the American company.  In January 2012 he even requested the Ministry of Defence accept Odyssey’s definition of personal property from the wreck which would have led to his own charity paying Odyssey 80% commission instead of 50% on the commercial salvage contract which he negotiated with Odyssey without taking any outside archaeological advice as to whether the contract was either appropriate, or in compliance with the UK Government’s policy on Historic Wrecks under the UNESCO Annex.  Critics argue the contract is neither appropriate nor in compliance.

The decision to pre-empt the Government’s decision and begin work on HMS Victory without a Ministerial all clear also calls into question the judgement of Odyssey Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, Greg Stemm.  With a government in Britain which is sympathetic to private sector solutions and the outsourcing of Government services and with a business relationship already in place over the Gairsoppa and Mantola contracts, Mr Stemm probably only had to wait a few weeks for clearance to work the site.  Instead, with or without the active connivance of Lord Lingfield, he has chosen to commit what must be seen as a calculated snub to the British Government which places the entire relationship of his company with the Government in jeopardy.

It is understood that Mr Stemm is now canvasing for support among the licensees of the UK’s Designated Historic Shipwrecks.  Given that in the past Odyssey’s method of work has previously involved toughing out any problems, taking opponents the courts if necessary, it is thought likely that this demonstrates Odyssey now realises it may have pushed its luck too far in going behind the back of more or less the only Government in western Europe which is prepared to give Odyssey and its profit driven vision of maritime archaeology, houseroom.

It remains to be seen whether people who depend on the effective functioning of a maritime heritage policy which is founded on observing the UNESCO Annex are prepared to support a company whose track record is in trying to subvert that same code of ethical archaeological practice and the professional body which administers it, English Heritage.

Certainly other Governments watching this debacle unfold will think twice before trusting Odyssey’s word; particularly as, in spite of the promises of the Maritime Heritage Foundation,  the Odyssey Explorer is currently back on station over the Victory and emitting the following signal…


If the Odyssey Explorer is back at work it leads to one final possibility to explain why Odyssey and the MHF would risk so much by defying the stated policy of the British Government in terms of both Maritime Heritage and HMS Victory herself.  That is that that Odyssey and the Maritime Heritage Foundation were led on by either the Ministry of Defence the  Department of Culture Media and Sport or some combination of the two saying, “this is the solution we want- get on with it and we will sort out the paperwork and square the other agencies.”

Of  course, if it were proven that either officials or Ministers were conspiring with a foreign commercial interest, Odyssey, to subvert their own Government’s stated policy without reference to Parliament or the Parliamentary oversight committees, let alone the public, then the HMS Victory, “BSKYB on Sea,” scandal would move to a whole new level.

What is now certain is that with the subterfuge discovered and with Odyssey and the Maritime Heritage Foundation facing a possible criminal investigation, Ministers and Officials will want to distance themselves from the Victory Project as fast as possible.  In that context, if the writ of the Cameron Government is to mean anything, the decision which Ministers Jeremy Hunt and Philip Hammond are now required to make is no longer whether to allow Odyssey to recover artefacts from the site as part of a commercial salvage contract.  It is whether to rescind the Deed of Gift which gave one of Great Britain’s most historic warships and most importantly the remains of her crew of over one thousand, to a charity headed by a Government Insider which is either incompetent or conniving with an American salvage company and its Chief Executive which is contemptuous of British Law and procedures and which is, to all intents and purposes, out of control.

Written by Andy Brockman – Press Release from Mortimer

HeritageDaily : Archaeology News : Archaeology Press Releases


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Andy Brockman

Andy Brockman

Andy Brockman[ ] is director of Operations Room Archaeology [the Op’s Room] and the Digging Dad’s Army Project and is a specialist in the Archaeology of Modern Conflict. He has a particular interest in community based projects which involve research into archaeology within living memory and supports Operation Nightingale, a British Army initiative to use archaeology to help rehabilitate injured servicemen and women.

  • Jared Sleeper

    This is a pathetic attempt to stir up scandal where there is none. The Ministry of Defense is obviously aware of the operations Odyssey has conducted on the site right now as they are the source for the article's claims. Note that the quoted passage says "following a proposal by the Maritime Heritage Foundation," implying that they proposed whatever work Odyssey is doing to HMG. Moreover, the article clearly gives away the weakness of its argument (that Odyssey has gone rogue and is conducting unauthorized operations on the HMS Victory) with passages like this:

    "has been actively preparing to recover artefacts from the wreck site of HMS Victory, the flagship of Admiral Sir John Balchen, lost with all hands in October 1744, even before permission has been given by Government Ministers Jeremy Hunt and Philip Hammond to permit the recovery of artefacts from the ship."

    So, for those reading who aren't trying to incriminate Odyssey in any way possible, what appears a much more likely scenario is that the MoD or other relevant authorities gave the MHF and thus Odyssey permission to conduct additional preparatory and inspection work on the site, without making any decision regarding the actual retrieval of artifacts. They could be selectively removing sediment to confirm the images given to them by their state-of-the-art 3D map of the wrecksite down to bedrock, for example. One could then read the quoted passage as not an admission of a company gone rouge but rather a statement that no artifact recovery has yet been authorized, which would be fine because none has been undertaken.
    In short, there isn't a shred of evidence in this article to back up its central claim, which is that Odyssey has worked on the HMS Victory site without the proper approval from the UK Government, aside from an ambiguous snippet of email that can easily be read in a much more reasonable and favorable way. This leap of logic simply wouldn't pass archaeological muster, and is clearly motivated by strong bias on the part of the author.

  • heritagedailyuk

    Re-posted on behalf of Andy Brockman

    Dear Mr Sleeper,
    Thank you for your comment.

    Under the terms of the “Deed of Transfer” which gifted HMS Victory to the Maritime Heritage Foundation, the MHF agrees that the site of HMS Victory site may not be “disturbed” without the express authorisation of the UK Secretary of State for Defence, currently Philip Hammond.
    You can download the whole Deed at…
    The letter we quote from Mr Routh simply confirms this fact and it also confirms a written answer given to the UK Parliament by the Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans Minister at the Ministry of Defence Andrew Robathan MP on 17 July 2012, where Mr Robathan clearly stated that no decision has yet been taken on how to proceed with the management of the site.
    You are reminded that misleading Parliament is just about the most serious offence a British Politician can commit. Thus, had permission to “disturb” the site to prepare to recover artefacts or excavate the site been granted by Mr Hammond, Mr Robathan would have said so.
    In the light of that we can conclude Odyssey does not yet have official permission to “disturb” the site or lift anything from the wreck site of HMS Victory.
    In fact we know that, at the time of writing, Odyssey has produced a Project Design which the MHF has submitted to the Government and the MOD’s archaeological Advisory Group and Expert Panel for comment. Odyssey has also carried out an authorised “Pre-disturbance” Survey. That is the limit of the activity which has been sanctioned by the UK Government.

    It follows that any preparations to lift material Odyssey and the Maritime Heritage Foundation might make are an unauthorised disturbance of the site. This is at best presumptuous, assuming the Secretary of State’s decision is a mere Rubber Stamp when in fact granting permission to recover artefacts at this time is far from a given. At worst the work represents a wilful disregard of the wishes of the British Government as stated to Parliament by Ministers through the Deed of Transfer.
    It is also the case that works on the seabed within UK Marine Licencing Zone, even simply moving sediments to prepare artefacts for lifting, requires a licence under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. That licence has to be granted in advance by the Marine Management Organisation…….
    There is no record of either Odyssey Marine Exploration or the Maritime Heritage Foundation applying for such a licence for HMS Victory and, as we report, the penalties for offences under the MCAA Act are a fine of up to £50,000 and/or a Prison Sentence of up to two years.
    We are placing this information and the latest news about Odyssey’s operations on the Victory in the public domain because we believe that all interested parties, including archaeologists, the wider public who care about our shared heritage and investors in Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. should have the best, most complete and most up to date information upon which to base their opinions and decisions about this matter of national and international interest.

    Meanwhile, at the time of writing Odyssey Explorer is still on station over the Victory and deploying equipment in spite of Mr Routh’s assurances that she has been ordered to stop by the Maritime Heritage Foundation.

    We stand by our story- If Mr Routh is telling the truth, and at the moment we must assume he is, Odyssey is out of control.

    Andy Brockman

  • Jared Sleeper

    I appreciate the reply, but I stand by my assertion that you are reading too far into disparate facts with a strong agenda of your own. It is clear from the documents that Odyssey doesn't have permission to "disturb" anything, but the definition of this term (omitted) is clearly open to some interpretation on the part of the UK government. It is not immediately clear to me that a ban against "disturbing" the wreck site would preclude preparations for excavation including possibly clearing sediment or even building up the infrastructure to support such an operation around the site. In either case, the written parliamentary response was taken clearly out of context, as the question being answered was:

    "whether his Department has authorised (a) the Maritime Heritage Foundation and (b) Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc to undertake any excavation and recovery work on the wreck site of HMS Victory."

    He of course responded correctly that no decisions have been made regarding the excavation, but there remains considerable gray area. In fact I suppose that is my main point. Your assertions are based upon statements by people who have little understanding of the subject matter at hand (underwater archaeology) and likely no common definitions of phrases like "disturbance." From these, you are extrapolating serious offences on the part of British Politicians and an American company that defy logic. Why on earth would Odyssey conduct blatant, easily observable unauthorized activities on a wreck site that, while likely not horribly profitable for shareholders is still a groundbreaking moment in the history of the commercial archaeology they are trying to launch? That isn't the profit motive you decry as antithetical to archaeology acting, if true, it is madness. At this point, Odyssey's best interest is to do the best possible archaeology on that site in complete accordance with all rules: the scrutiny of your community demands it, and anything less would jeopardize the entire industry they are trying to build. With your theory also including crooked politicians who, at least now, surely know about these supposed offenses but nonetheless allow Odyssey to hover over the site without being dragged off in chains, and you're generating a conspiracy theory worthy of the History Channel, while simpler explanations abound. I understand that, as previously stated in numerous articles, you are very opposed to Odyssey working the HMS Victory site, but every day the ship sits over it is either a deepening of a scandal of epic proportions with devastating impacts to politicians and a company that, as you readily admit, needs all to go well here OR a further affirmation that your facts are incomplete and your conclusions are premature at best.

    Just ruminate on the implications of your last sentence: a company deliberately breaking the law in a way that is visible to the entire world on AIS, against the orders of a government and foundation that are currently its only hope for revenue in the near future, shattering its reputation in the archaeological community (which is, admittedly, already quite bad, however undeservedly), for what? What do you think they have in mind? Do you think they're going to try to run the gold (which probably isn't there anyway) back to the U.S. and win in court (doesn't work and they know that)? Your assertions imply highly irrational behavior on the part of both the government and the company, and are based on statements from parties with little firsthand knowledge of the situation. We'll find out how this all went down at some point in the future, but I have a hunch Odyssey isn't intentionally destroying itself as we all watch live on AIS. It's kind of sad that your bias against them is so strong that you would accuse them of that without considering any more logical alternatives.

  • carcie

    England has a Navy. If they don't want OMEX there send out a desroyer.And fire few shots across the bow.

  • Tom Lazerby

    The same Odyssey who is banned from operating by governments across the world. Cant imagine why the UK would allow them into their waters….Seriously Britain, Ban Em!!

  • Hal C

    Mr. Brockman

    Thank you for your article. To those of us who know absolutely nothing about UK archaeological politics, it at least offered many potential roadmaps to better understanding.

    I am a shareholder in Odyssey Marine. , I admit my knee jerk reaction to your article was that your vivid description of red tape and the use of words like "conspire" "subterfuge" and "out of control" seemed "Vogonesque"

    …..but the law is the law and that term would certainly be easily as misleading and inflammatory.

    "Out of Control" does render images of the Odyssey as the Incredible Hulk. and while I am sure many of their very serious and conscientious employees, serious about both their difficult and dangerous business and archaeology, might be flattered by that comparison, it just is not so. Nor is their board of directors manned by Blackbeard the Pirate, Long John Silver, and Johnny Depp. (contd)

  • Hal C

    Pt 2
    My sincere and respectful question to you, Mr.Brockman, is this. If you had absolute control of the Victory project, what would you preferences be?

    Would you cancel all agreements and begin anew? Would you prefer tax payer funding of the project…perhaps by some division of the British navy? Given that looting has already occurred at least once, would you have the site guarded? Would you simply prefer a different company or for more or different voices engaged in oversight of the work plan? Would you prefer the Victory remain in situ indefinitely?

    When a person objects so strenuously to events at hand, they usually have a reason involving belief in a greater good.. What greater good for the Victory project would you suggest? Their surely has to be more to your vision than dotting "i"s and crossing "t" s…..

    Good Health and Fortune to You

  • guardianofhistory

    The Victory agreement needs to be rescinded, and HMG need to take title back. Only then can sovereign immunity protect the site. The UK Govt needs to add this site to their list of protected sites, and provide direct or remote monitoring.
    If trawler damage is an issue, a no fishing zone can be placed around the wreck as a Notice to Mariners.
    With the site in International waters, without sovereign immunity, there is absolutely no protection offered. While Odyssey is feigning looting of the site, their actions are easliy tracked on Google Earth, and seem to be setting the site up for others to complete their assertions. In reality, there are hundreds of wrecks, even overlaying each other in that part of the English Channel, how are the Victory artefacts any different from all of the rest? Sure a canon may have a certain markings, but those cannon were fit to other vessels as well. We can see that the Dutch team that, according to Odyssey, 'looted' a canon from the site, are in negotiations for the return. Odyssey should remember very well the Mercedes, and the very parameters that Spain was able to prevail, and force the return of the items Odyssey "looted' from their sovereign warship.
    A Project Plan should be initiated for the site, and when fully funded, the site documentation and recovery can begin. There can be no selling of artefacts to fund the recovery, that is illegal to do so on any archaeological site.
    The artefacts will need to soak in fresh water for years, so there will be plenty of time to document and preserve the artefacts. In regards to the recovery of the cannon by Odyssey, one can easily note the simple, but very dangerous mistakes, that Odyssey did during the recovery. There are numerous images of the cannon recovery, with the artefact laying on the deck. Basic recovery methods dictate the cannon immediately be submersed in fresh water. A competent team would consider every cannon to be loaded, and immediate immersion is necessary to prevent the artefact from the reaction with the oxygen in the atmosphere, and exploding. (as noted by the Dutch adventure with Customs, that cannon was.
    There are plenty of first class operations that have been documenting and recovering underwater sites for decades, and Odyssey Marine would certainly not be in that group.

  • Andy Brockman

    This is a developing story and we are sure that there there will be more twists turns and revelations in the next few weeks.

    For now, to Jared Sleeper I simply say you can play a semantic game or you can actually look at the evidence Heritage Daily has published.

    The current unauthorised and almost certainly unlicenced activity on HMS Victory is completely consistent with a pattern of behavior by Odyssey and the clear evidence of collusion between the UK Ministry of Defence, the UK Department of Culture Media and Sport, Lord Lingfield and Odyssey going back to the discovery of the wreck in 2008. To which we can add unfounded attacks on English Heritage, the misrepresentation of Lord Lingfield as a descendant of Admiral Balchen, over stating the threats to the site [which mostly came about because of Odyssey's insistence on a high profile Press Conference and series of TV infomercials called "Treasure Quest"], the timing of press stories to shore up Odyssey's share price and claiming to be salvor in possession of a vessel when Odyssey have no rights to work the site except those granted by the British Government, even after its gifting to the Maritime Heritage Foundation.

    From an American perspective it also might not be so clear that the Cameron Government is beset by accusations of pork barrel politics and favours to friends and supporters. Earlier this year Cameron's Party Treasurer was forced to resign after offering Conservative Party supporters the opportunity to influence Government Policy and gain privileged access to Ministers in return for large financial donations. The so called "Cash for Cameron " affair.

    As we reported, Lord Lingfield is a senior party insider who has worked for the Conservative Party and conservative ministers as recently as March this year and he is a known political associate of the Culture Minister Jermey Hunt. It is also the case that he lobbied Hunt on the Victory at an un-minuted meeting in the Summer of 2010 and set up a charity to run the Victory site almost a year before the DCMS announced its decision on how to proceed. All that when e-mails released by the Government show Lord Lingfield's organisation is not competent to look after HMS Victory to the extent the MOD has had to put in place not one but two expert panels, just to ensure the Maritime Heritage Foundation receives expert independent advice.

    This is not "Hunting Bigfoot". This is a serious political story which could destroy careers and reputations.

    Just one further point. I note you state you believe that there is probably no gold on board Victory. Professor Roger who Wessex Archaeology asked to judge the matter and the Ministry of Defence join you in thinking it is highly unlikely there is any substantial amount of precious metals aboard the ship either. However, that might come as news to the many small shareholders of Odyssey who have been repeatedly told by Odyssey's management that it is there and it will be "monetised" this Summer.

    I would also ask you to consider the words of US District Court Judge Steven D Merryday in ordering Odyssey to return to Spain the material illegally removed from the "Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes" by Odyssey which is still held in Gibraltar. While threatening one or more "pinciple officers" of the company with civil contempt if the court order was not complied with Judge Merryday wrote…

    "No evasion, duplicity, or deflection
    will excuse further non-compliance by Odyssey."

    Case 8:07-cv-00614-SDM-MAP Document 330 Filed 05/30/12

    It is a great endorsement for the company resume…

    • Jared Sleeper

      Your answer reveals that you have no response to my earlier point, which is that that actions you seem to describe are highly illogical as it makes no sense for Odyssey to "go rouge" at such an important point for them. You now seem to imply that Odyssey DID have permission to conduct its activities at the site, but that that permission may be the result of illegal or unscrupulous actions on the part of the UK Government. I don't know enough about UK politics to say one way or the other, but I do know that that is not consistent with your earlier claims that Odyssey is "out of control." If you thing the government protocols for giving Odyssey permission to work the site have not been followed, that is one matter, but you accused Odyssey of deliberately ignoring the law and its orders, which is bordering on libel since you have no evidence for that at all.
      Regarding the status of the wrecksite as threatened, there's no need to take Odyssey's word for it, you can look at the photomosaics and other concrete evidence provided on their website to see the significant changes to the site (well in excess of what any natural forces can do) over the past few years. Not to mention the illicitly salvaged cannon, despite assurances from the JNAPC that such a salvage was highly unlikely. Cannon have been dragged hundreds of feet off site in the past few years alone. You're entitled to your opinions about the best way forward, but Odyssey is in no way "overstating the threats to the site." The archaeological community has been understating them, perhaps in an effort to keep Odyssey away, since this matter began four years ago. No reasonable person could look at the evidence and say that the site isn't threatened.

      Regarding the gold, you're mistaken, as Odyssey always prefaces its statements with qualifiers such as "historical evidence suggests." No one will know for sure until a recovery happens (or ever, it seems, should some get their way), but Odyssey's shareholders are smart enough to know the risks, and indeed know far more about the company than you seem to.

      We'll learn more about this all in the coming weeks and months, of course, but the really interesting debate is a few comments below. Thanks for taking the time to reply!

  • Andy Brockman

    To Hal C I say thank you for your courteous approach and reasoned and sensible question.

    I am particularly pleased if we have managed to explain some of the political and ethical background to the story as it is seen from the UK.

    In terms of what should happen to manage the Victory wreck site. As far as the UK is concerned, UK Government Policy is to hold to the Annex of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage and we believe that all work on HMS Victory, whether done by Odyssey or anyone else, should conform to that policy which is designed to ensure work is done ethically, according to best archaeological practice and for the common good not the private profit of a few.

    In particular, the true archaeological process demands that no site should be excavated just because it is there and we can. It is also the case that best practice demands that any Rescue Excavation should be based on a proven case of imminent threat. The assessment of threat to the Victory site is all Odyssey’s. When Wessex Archaeology carried out an independent survey they failed to prove any recent trawl damage and the maritime archaeological community believes Odyssey has a conflict of interest which makes it impossible to accept its risk assessment at face value.

    To see why we feel this approach is important ask yourself- how would you feel if Odyssey claimed based on their own survey [which was not peer reviewed], that the USS Arizona was under threat and consequently officials at the US Department of Defence allowed the Odyssey Explorer to drop anchor in Pearl Harbour and began to lift weapons, equipment and the personal property of the crew, with a view to selling many of the artefacts and disturbing many of the crew’s remains in the process?

    Of course it would not happen as US Law expressly prevents this because of the outrage it would cause and out of respect for the feelings of veterans and the public. As archaeologists we believe this behavior should not be acceptable just because the vessel concerned flew another nations flag and sank two hundred and fifty years ago. That is why we seek to uphold the international ethical standards of the UNESCO Convention to protect warships and indeed other historic vessels and underwater heritage from treasure hunters and commercial salvage.

    We know that the Victory scandal has also caused many in the maritime archaeology world to think about the genuine issues of conservation and how to carry out work in a way which is both affordable and ethical and we look forward to reporting on new initiatives which will show it is not necessary to rely on Government money, or to make a profit to do state of the art maritime archaeology, even in these difficult financial times.

    A recent example of what is possible is the initiative to survey the iconic battlecruiser HMS Hood sunk by KMS Bismarck in May 1941 which will be carried out by David Mearns and Blue Water Recovery. In an agreement with the Ministry of Defence and the Museum of the Royal Navy, the Hood’s ship’s bell will be recovered, not for sale, although on the collectors market it would fetch a premium, but to form a memorial to the Hoods crew all but three of whom died in the sinking. The expedition is being funded at no cost to the MOD or MRN by Paul G Allen , co founder of Microsoft.

    • Jared Sleeper

      Mr. Brockman,

      This post flies in the face of the facts. We can discuss the merits of the "true archaeological process" later perhaps, but let's consider the matter at hand and what really happened. There's no doubt that Odyssey has a bias towards excavating the HMS Victory, as, I think, most people outside of the archaeological community would (think common good, here). It will tell us an enormous amount about life at sea during that era and reveal a wealth of amazing artifacts that the public will be able to enjoy for centuries to come. For Odyssey, in represents a way to test their business model of commercial archaeology, a crucial pilot project for the company.

      You are correct that threat assessment has come almost entirely from Odyssey, which is unsurprising given that they do have incentives to show that the site is threatened. However, can we stop hiding behind formalities and actually consider the situation as it actually is? Odyssey has shown before and after photomosaics detailing dramatic changes to the site in the past four years, changes completely beyond the scope of natural forces, including cannon dragged hundreds of feet offsite, muzzles broken, etc. In addition, a Dutch salvage team illicitly salvaged a cannon from the site with a grab bucket.
      So here is a more accurate picture of what may have happened. Odyssey showed the MoD conclusive evidence that the site was at risk, most prominently from the illicit salvage and the disturbed cannon. The only other proposals that the MoD received were for quarterly inspections or other efforts to safeguard the site on a temporary basis, generally using donated time or effort. Given the imminent risk to the site, the MoD judged that these were insufficient, and went with Odyssey which was the only group with the resources to conduct thorough operations quickly. You comments about the wreck's status as a war-grave are also misleading. Firstly, the MoD should be the authority on the treatment of war graves, no one else. Secondly, there are precedents here, including the Mary Rose, which had numerous skeletal remains which were analyzed and provided great insights and value to the archaeological excavation.

      Your reference the SS Arizona is almost comical. There is a substantial difference between a WW2 Era battleship, and an 18th century ship of the line, especially in terms of the educational value of an excavation. That example only serves as a way of framing public opinion, which is almost certainly not on your side here.
      I think the issue you are struggling with here is that if a poll of the British public was done, given the current facts, it would overwhelmingly favor excavation of the wreck. Given a poll question like:

      "Should the British government, at no taxpayer expense, allow a company to excavate the HMS Victory for a public charitable trust for display in museums and exhibits, or preserve the ship as it lies, perhaps burying it further to prevent damage?"

      I think we all know which way the public would lean. So, then, I would ask you to reevaluate which course of action best serves "the public good." Excavating a historic warship from which we can learn a tremendous amount as a people, generating enormous public interest and fascination with the past, or leaving it there in situ because the only way to excavate it right now involves a for-profit concern. In my humble opinion, it's not even close.

  • Andy Brockman

    Mr Sleeper,

    I will offer you a research and reading list of materials which represent a grounding for all persons wishing to invest time in ethical maritime archaeology and the curation of artifact collections from Maritime sites under UK Jurisdiction.

    1. The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of he Underwater Cultural Heritage and its Annex

    2. The Marine Management Organisation Licenising Provisions

    3. The Institute for Archaeologists Professional Guidelines

    4. The Museums Association Code of Ethics

    5. Arguments by Demonstration- doing it a better way>
    Jonathan Adams Head of Archaeology of the University of Southampton at "Time Capsules? The Maritime Archaeology of the Baltic Sea and New Perspectives on History" Posted April 5 2012

    If you cannot view all of the video watch from 0.52'58"

    I would point out that whatever Odyssey says…

    1. …the Annex to the UNESCO Convention applies to HMS Victory and

    2. …the IfA code applies to any Odyssey employees or consultants who are members as well as to the archaeologists advising the Ministry of Defence.

    3. The UK Government has stated that the Museums Association Code applies to the Maritime Heritage Foundation including its stipulations on the disposal of material from collections.

    When you have watched, read and understood this material- even if you disagree with it- we can begin to discuss this.

    Due archaeological process is what this is all about and we have laid out the ethical and legal underpinning of international and UK maritime archaeology, heard why in technical terms Odyssey is far from "state of the art" and shown you the the evidence as to why we believe Odyssey is not an appropriate partner for the UK Government.

    If you refuse to engage with that argument there is no discussion to be had.

    Finally, I will simply pose another question to the public we both hope to convince of our respective arguments. It is the sentence that is conspicuously missing from your hypothetical opinion poll question.

    "…and do you wish the shareholders and Hedge Fund investors of a foreign owned commercial savage company to make money from selling objects taken from the grave of over 1000 Royal Navy sailors?"

    It all depends on the question you ask and think I know who would win if we asked this one.

  • Jared Sleeper

    Mr. Brock,

    I'll happily read and watch then we can continue this argument. However you're still playing fast with the facts, as at this time no artifacts are to be sold. The agreement clearly states that the strong preference is for the artifacts to be kept together in a collection and Odyssey to be compensated in cash. Selling artifacts only enters the equation should a massive hoard of treasure be found, which most (including you) find highly unlikely. Also the Annex to UNESCO does not apply to the HMS Victory, to my knowledge, as the UK is not a signatory.

  • Jared Sleeper

    Okay, I've read/watched it all. Here are my points:

    On the applicability of the UNESCO convention to the HMS Victory, I will point out that: "The Convention is furthermore not intended to affect state practice pertaining to sovereign immunities, nor any State’s rights with respect to its State vessels and aircraft." As a sovereign immune vessel, and the property of the state (before its gifting, of course) HMS Victory wasn't bound by the convention even if the UK was a signatory, which it isn't.

    The museum code of conduct says that a museum must "Demonstrate clearly how the long-term
    local and general public interest is served in circumstances in which disposal may be appropriate and ensure that public trust in museums is upheld." and that:

    "Consider financially-motivated disposal
    only in exceptional circumstances and
    when it can be demonstrated that:
    •it will significantly improve the long-term
    public benefit derived from the remaining
    •it is not to generate short-term revenue
    (for example to meet a budget deficit)
    •it is as a last resort after other sources of
    funding have been thoroughly explored
    •extensive prior consultation with sector
    bodies has been undertaken
    •the item under consideration lies outside
    the museum’s established core collection
    as defined in the collections policy."

    There are parts of the material I disagree with, but I understand their source and intent. We know that pillaging of underwater sites has been a major issue in the past, and the archaeological community is right to cheer efforts to limit that. However, again I will turn us to the current situation. The HMS Victory site is in grave danger. You have never sought to contest this point save by protesting Odyssey's motives, which is a fair point but as I've explained the solid, objective evidence they've presented leaves little doubt that archaeological information is being regularly destroyed there. The British government went through a lengthy public process collecting opinions, including from the archaeological community, and proposals for the care of the site. Despite proof of immediate danger to the site, the MHF's was the only proposal that could protect the site from these risks in a timely manner. The video you provided was very interesting, but clearly his insinuation that the archaeological community had the resources to do this work was wrong, as there was no funded proposal from them. Even so, the vehicle used for that project, a nuclear submarine, would be prohibitively expensive. In fact, expense was cited by the JNAPC as a reason why excavation was not a viable option at this time. So here's my contention:

    The rules banning the sale of artifact have a specific intention, which is to prevent the loss of precious archaeological information. Odyssey's model fulfills this intention even if it does not conform to the letter of the law. By (potentially) selling off some recovered coins (after a thorough archaeological recording of each), they are able to finance a rescue recovery of an endangered site, under guidance by teams of expert archaeologists that have been assembled, recovering and preserving our heritage. Not only is this excavation allowable due to the threat to the site, it is also clearly allowable under the UNESCO provision which states: "the recovery of objects may however be authorized for the purpose of making a significant contribution to the protection of or knowledge about underwater cultural heritage" which these artifacts could certainly do.

    If you taken exceptions to that, please explain (this debate is much more fun that debating whether or not Odyssey is deliberately breaking the law in plain view, glad to see that we've moved on from that ridiculous assertion even if you stand by it). But also maybe you can answer another question for me, I truly curious what the archaeological communities answer is.

    What is objectionable about this:

    Odyssey performs an archaeological excavation of the site using best practices, with oversight from professional archaeologists. They do, by all accounts, fantastic work, recovering all of the artifacts including a cargo of 100,000 gold coins, which are sorted and meticulously cataloged. After providing representative samples to museums around the world, some 60,000 coins are sold to private collectors, more than financing the operation and providing the means for fund many more excavations, while also returning funds to the UK taxpayers and Odyssey shareholders.

    I see this as a perfectly reasonable win-win scenario. Rescue archaeology is done, the public gets the benefit of museum exhibits and archaeological papers, collectors get to treasure trade goods of little archaeological value that are nonetheless very valuable on a personal level, heritage is preserved from destruction, and Odyssey profits for its efforts (just like in almost any other human endeavor).

  • Jared Sleeper


    In my view, opposition to this model is based primarily on dogma that profit is antithetical to archaeology, combined with perhaps a touch of jealousy on the part of academic archaeology. I understand the origin of that view, but I don't think it can stand up to the model Odyssey is proposing. I also understand if observers are skeptical that Odyssey is capable of or intends to fulfill the "fantastic work" provision, but I think that enough oversight has been provided that that shouldn't be a problem, especially since they have every incentive to get this right and not ruin the future prospects of their business model.
    So, while the legal issues relating to the documents you provided are interesting and good reads, the real question here is whether Odyssey's model is acceptable if it acts as they say it will. Laws shouldn't stop the right thing from being done.

  • gasolkontroll

    Quite inspiration post on control inspection!!! Andy thanks for the update Odyssey Marine and Cameron Peer Out of Control on HMS Victory as well. Keep posting like this!!!

  • Richard Temple West

    Might i suggest you look at the website created by the descendants of Admiral Sir John Balchen, whose flagship was HMS Victory was lost in 1744 and in which they express their grave concerns.

  • JackGetze

    This story is a complete lie. The Odyssey Explorer has been searching the ocean all June and July for the wreck of the Merchant Royal, hundreds and hundreds of miles from the well-documented site of the HMS Victory. Anyone can watch them on, follow the ship as it “mows the lawn”, looking for the MR. I’ve been waiting all year for the Odyssey to move over the Victory but it hasn’t. It’s a shame you people feel compelled to make things up to further your personal cause.

  • JackGetze

    From Odyssey’s website: The wreck of the 100-gun, first-rate English warship
    HMS Victory … was discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration in April 2008. The site is located
    in international waters at a depth of 74m, 80km southeast
    of Plymouth and 100km northwest of Guernsey.
    Today, as it has all summer long, the Odyssey Explorer is searching for something else (I speculate the MR) approximately 400 kms to the west.

  • bjlmd

    How about the Brits return all those mummies and the rosetta stone from  the National Museum to Egypt.  Seems OK when they plunder the rest of the worlds treasures, but when someone else is ready to bring one of their national treasures up from great depths for the rest of the world to see, that is unacceptable!  Go figure.

  • Hugh Hadfield

    If the British goverment would reimburse OM for the millions of dollars they have spent to locate the victory they can “share” in the bounty.  Otherwise they should stand aside.

  • Arkn

    The fact that the MOD has allowed a commercial salvage operator like Odyssey to recover the Victory is a scandal. This flies in the face of how heritage is managed in the UK or anywhere else in Europe. Maybe they should have asked OM to dig up Richard III and sell his bones! Just because the Victory is underwater doesn’t change the fact that it is British heritage and officials in this Ministry have just sold it. What a legacy – just disgraceful!

  • Odyssey Facts

    Didn’t Odyssey’s chairman Brad
    Baker get exposed for signing on both sides of a deal?

  • Odyssey Facts

    Why does Odyssey Marine
    Exploration use an auditor that has been sanctioned multiple times by the
    Public Company Accounting Oversight Board?

  • JackGetze

    Because it would be impossible to find any experienced auditing firm WITHOUT multiple sanctions from the Public Company Oversight Board.   Odyssey Facts