Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sunken Treasure = That Sinking Feeling (Forbes)

Every armchair pirate dreams of finding sunken treasure, but it turns out hauling up chests full of gold bars and pieces of eight is a lousy way to get rich. Recovery usually costs millions of dollars, and even before the loot is on dry land you can look forward to being sued by insurers and other claimants.

A few years back Odyssey Marine Exploration, the biggest player in the game, spent $ 2.6 million recovering an estimated $500 million in gold coins from a Spanish shipwreck and then had to give it all back to Spain–plus a $1 million fine. And that’s just one of the misadventures on our treasure map of misery.
PORT NICHOLSON. In 2008 Greg Brooks, a Maine treasure hunter, finds a World War II British freighter and later insists it carried $3 billion in precious metals. The U.K. says there’s little more onboard than auto and weapon parts–and it owns it all anyway.

April 17, 2014 --Treasure hunter Greg Brooks is wrestling with two court cases, angry investors and an expedition that hasn't produced anything more valuable than a box of rusty hatchets. That's been nothing near the $3 billion to $5 billion in platinum and diamonds that Brooks, based in Portland, Maine, claims is onboard a World War II freighter sunk in 800 feet of water 50 miles off Province-town. And this week, the Maine Office of Securities announced it is seeking information from investors about Brooks and his companies. That could be a prelude to an investigation.
WHYDAH GALLEY. A pirate ship ran aground in 1717 and was discovered in 1982. It’s said to have carried treasure worth $400 million. Salvagers have found artifacts like cannons and the ship’s bell but no massive hoard of gold.

After 15 years of searching the ocean floor off the town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts, Clifford believes he's finally zeroing in on what's left of the hull and loot from the first pirate ship ever discovered in North America. Called the Whydah Galley, it was said to be heavy with treasure stolen from at least 53 ships when it sank in a storm on April 26, 1717.
CENTRAL AMERICA Treasure hunter Tommy Thompson discovers the Gold Rush ship in 1987. He eventually sells a reported $52 million worth of gold–then skips town without paying his investors a cent. In 2014 they pick Odyssey to resume salvage, and this spring the company pulls up its first 60 pounds.
SAN JOSE. A salvage company signs a deal with Colombia in 1984 to find a ship supposedly laden with billions of dollars’ worth of Spanish treasure and share the proceeds. After the company claims to locate the vessel, Colombia reneges, insisting on full ownership. The matter remains in litigation 30 years later.

The Spanish galleon San Jose was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships off Colombia on June 8, 1708, when a mysterious explosion sent it to the bottom.
BLACK SWAN. Odyssey announces a discovery in 2007, which it code-names “Black Swan,” and extracts an estimated half-billion dollars’ worth of coins. Spain sues for ownership, saying the ship is a naval frigate sunk in 1804, and wins. Odyssey gets nothing and is ordered to pay Spain $1 million for “bad faith and abusive litigation.”
NUESTRA SENORA DE ATOCHA. A Spanish ship sunk in 1622 is discovered in the 1970s by adventurer Mel Fisher, who claims it holds $400 million in gold. Historians suspect the number is closer to $20 million. Fisher’s heirs continue to dive the wreck.