Treasure two-fer for salvor

Odyssey Marine seeks the sole salvage rights for a pair of ships in European waters.

By Scott Barancik
Published May 17, 2007

A Tampa company that scans the ocean floors for sunken treasure says it found two more ships to forage.

Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. recently told a federal judge in Tampa about its latest discoveries. One wreck, believed to be an Italian-registered passenger vessel that sank during World War I, was found 500 meters beneath the surface of the Mediterranean Sea roughly 65 miles east of Sardinia. Odyssey said it recovered objects such as brass fixtures and a teacup from the ship but believes more valuable cargo may be on board.

Little detail was offered about a second wreck the company discovered in 1, 100 meters of water about 100 miles west of Gibraltar, a British colony at the southern tip of Spain. In court papers, Odyssey said only that it believes the ship sank in the 19th century and that it had recovered a small bronze block from the wreckage.

Under international maritime law, salvors like Odyssey - a publicly traded company whose stock closed Wednesday at $4.49 per share - can ask a federal judge to grant it exclusive control and ownership of a ship found in international waters. But Odyssey apparently has learned to disclose as little detail as necessary. Previously, the company published the rough longitude and latitude of its wrecks in court papers open to the public. Last month, it obtained court permission to submit such coordinates under seal.

"Due to the nature of salvage operations and the existence of pirates and poachers, it is necessary to maintain secrecy of the location, " the company wrote.

In a separate case Tuesday, a federal judge in Tampa awarded Odyssey title to a 17th century merchant vessel it found near the mouth of the English Channel. The company is also salvaging a wreck believed to be the HMS Sussex, a British warship that sank in 1694 and is the property of the United Kingdom. Odyssey says the ship may contain coins worth billions of dollars today.

Scott Barancik can be reached at barancik@sptimes.com (727) 893-8751.

Odyssey Marine Exploration

Headquarters: Tampa

Annual shareholders meeting: Friday, Quorum Hotel, Tampa

Biggest find to date: The Republic, an 1865 steamship off the Georgia coast discovered in 2003 containing thousands of gold and silver coins.

Coming exhibit: Odyssey will offer Shipwreck! Pirates & Treasure, an interactive shipwreck and treasure exhibit, at Tampa's Museum of Science & Industry from June 22 through Jan. 31.