Tuesday, September 27, 2011

OME does it again: another bullion-laden vessel found


Greg Stemm must be rubbing his manicured hands together in glee. His team of researchers and salvors have discovered another sunken ship with a cargo of silver. Found in the Atlantic, the British cargo ship was sunk by a German U-Boat during the Second World War (details below).
The numbers are already in and it is said to be worth £155 million; the so-called 'World's Most Valuable Shipwreck'. I have a little bit of an issue with that phrase as it determines value only in monetary terms, rather that in archaeological, historical or cultural ones. The ever-eager-to-capitalise-on-heritage-British Government (specifically the MoD ***CORRECTION MoT***) get 20% of the loot, cha-ching!

****You may note the subtle emphasis on gold and silver on their website's banner by clicking here http://www.shipwreck.net/images/banner.jpg *****

For those of you unfamiliar with this type of arrangement, this is typical of dealings between the Ministry of Defence and Odyssey Marine Exploration (OME). Luckily for OME, the British Government are happy to hand over large tracts of its heritage for cold hard cash. This is unlike OME's dealings with Spain: just last month, a federal appeals court in Florida ordered OME hand back some £250 million worth of gold and silver coins to Spain as it was illegally obtained (it's a complicated scenario involving disputed international waters and OME's disregard for Spain's national heritage, despite numerous warnings).
Maybe not the best thing to have an entire government hate you
Want to know the kicker in this entire story? The ship isn't even in British waters - it's in Irish waters, which doesn't seem to be complicating the matter at all.****CORRECTION, APPARENTLY THE WRECK IS TECHNICALLY IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS, see further correction, below**** There is no dispute that the wreck belongs to the Crown, not Ireland, but maybe Ireland could ban OME from our waters? Just a suggestion HINT HINT. (It has been reported Independentt), erroneously, that Ireland will get percentage from OME's plundering profits.
Good old Greggy loves him some historic saleable gold
Not that Greg Stemm is all about the money, somewhere deep down it's also about the history and archaeology.... except that part is less easy to sell for millions upon millions. For now, poor Greg will have to settle for selling 'salvaged' silver coins and artefacts to hungry collectors, and maybe put on an travelling exhibition, which the public will gladly pay for. It will feature a historical overview and lots of pictures of coins, just like his other million-dollar exhibitions. The man knows how to sell history well by preying on the public's sense of greed, good one Greg.
I see Giorgio Tsoukalos when I look at this photo of Greg Stemm
I met Greg Stemm once at a conference, shook his hand and took his gold-embossed card. He is charming, successful, well-spoken and media savvy. He comes across as a nice guy and is adept at answering tricky questions. When I asked him (politely) about archaeological reports which had never been published, he assured me that the work was done impeccably but that a series of court proceedings had delayed everything ***UPDATE, as stated at the top of this article, OME's PR firm claims this is no longer the case, but it was true at the time I spoke to Greg a few years ago (not implying that nothing had been published)****. He also kindly invited me to visit his USA-based archives any time I wanted to consult the research I asked about. It may help Greg to know that if he didn't keep annoying entire nations (i.e. Spain) he might have less court trouble and more people would like him if he cared less about investors and more about the archaeology he is destroying.

****CORRECTION: OME's PR FIRM CLAIM THAT ALL PUBLICATIONS OF EXCAVATION REPORTS ARE UP TO DATE - THEY HAVE SENT ME COPIES OF THESE REPORTS TO REVIEW. Ireland's international waters extend to ~230miles (200 nautical miles), though the UN has granted Ireland the right to extend its protection further, see http://www.independent.ie/national-news/new-un-resolution-allows-ireland-to-extend-its-territorial-waters-42433.html) Particularly relevant is the clause
A clause in the convention stipulates that the exclusive economic zone can be extended to up to 350 nautical miles if countries can scientifically prove that their continental shelf extends beyond the 200-mile boundary. *****

ABOUT THE WRECK (from the Telegraph's article)

The SS Gairsoppa set sail from India in December 1940 carrying a consignment of 240 tonnes of silver, iron and tea.
It was headed for Liverpool but was forced to break away from its military convoy off the coast of Ireland as weather conditions deteriorated and it began to run out of fuel.
As the merchant steamship tried to make it to Galway it was attacked by the German submarine U101, 300 miles southwest of the Irish harbour.
On February 17, 1941, a single torpedo sank the ill-fated vessel, killing all 85 crewmen except one.

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