Buried gold and secret treasure chests have been the subject of numerous childhood fantasies, but sometimes, like with many fantasies, when they occur in reality, they can be tainted by greed, ownership and historical issues.
Recently the issue has been regarding the efforts of US treasure hunters to raid the sunken British warship, Victory, in a quest for the gold treasure that is believed to be on board. Both archeologists and descendents of those who sailed on board her famous deck are demanding that they are banned from profiteering from the wreck.
Quite simply, it is stated, that not only would the commercial opportunism be a breach of military covenant, but too it would be wholly disrespectful to the thousand plus sailors who died as she was sunk.
The Ministry of Defense (MoD), however, has decided that the recovery, led by Odyssey Marine Exploration, can go ahead, but only for the part-benefit of a newly established charity. The Maritime Heritage Foundation has been setup, by direct descendents of the ship’s former captain, for the very purpose of the process, and will see the believed hundreds of millions of pounds worth of gold, and the various historical artefacts, distributed between both the US exploration company and the heritage foundation.
Early proposals are earmarking an 80:20 split, in favour of Odyssey Marine Exploration, with regards to the gold coins and bullion, and a 50:50 split, relating to the historical artefacts. The exploration is still yet to receive the go ahead, on these terms, and any final decision will have to be approved by Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary.
The entire process is, however, fraught with controversy, with many other descendents of the former crew suggesting that the raiding of a military grave for private profit was completely unjust and the “most inappropriate and distasteful kind of commercial exploitation”. They have also suggested that the newly established foundation doesn’t have the experience or resources necessary to offer any tangible benefit from the profits.
When the discussion came to the House of Lords last year, the proposal was strongly attacked by leading experts, who claimed that the entire process was in contravention of a UNESCO convention. There was also the common opinion that Britain was taking an inexperienced and amateur lead on the issue of underwater heritage, and indeed that, if the process were to go ahead, it would set an unhealthy precedent for the rest of the world.
The US company at the centre of the debate, Odyssey Marine Exploration, have acted in a controversial manner previously. Just last year, they were ordered to return the 17 tons of silver coins recovered from the wreck of a Spanish frigate, after a judge stated that the wreck should have been left alone “despite any man’s aspiration to the contrary”. Many people will have the same opinion, with regards to the Victory.
Gold has a unique allure in the world, making such quests not uncommon. Increasingly, in light of the current economic recession, its importance, within the global economy, too is growing. Gold investment has always been popular and with the ease of exchanging gold for cash, through cash for gold websites websites, it is increasingly playing the role of currency.
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