NPR’s All Things Considered had an interesting story on Odyssey Marine yesterday. It’s a good chance to hear both sides of the debate.
One of the founders of the publicly traded company, Greg Stemm said, “The only thing we’re saying right now is that we’ve really recovered about a half-million coins, and a number of artifacts that are from the colonial period … that were in the Atlantic Ocean.”
But the attorney representing Spain, Jim Goold says “The U.S. has a lot of Navy and other ships that have sunk around the world… The idea that … anyone can take U.S. government property just by looking around in the water and pulling it up without authorization … just doesn’t work. And that’s not what the courts say.”
It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds. It strikes me there is a tremendous tension between studying the wreck scientifically and commercially excavating it. The UNESCO Underwater Heritage Convention precludes commercial exploitation of wrecks. Finding a workable compromise between commerce and archaeology is particularly difficult with underwater heritage. This massive half a billion recovery from the still unidentified wreck underlines the problem.