Treasure hunters who found $75m of shipwrecked gold coins – MoneyWeek

Ittookthemtwoyearstofind。

Bythetimetheyhadretrievedalltheartefacts,thesalepriceof$3mbarelynettedaprofit,saysAdamGoodheartinPreservationmagazine。

Butwhattheyhadgainedwascredibility。

ThepairsettheirsightsontheSSRepublic,asteamshipthatsankenroutetoNewOrleansin1865carryingareported$400,000incoins。

Thefollowingdecadewastough。

Yearafter“emptyyear”,StemmandMorrishadtodilutetheirOdysseyshareholdingsuntiltheywereminorityshareholders,saidPriitVesilindinNationalGeographic。

Then,in2003,theystruckpaydirt。

“After17years,”saidBrettO’ReillyinFortune,“thecompanywasanovernightsuccess。

”Theyfoundcoinsworthanestimated$75m。

Inthefirstmonthofsales,Odysseymade$3m,tentimesmorethantheprevioustenyears。

Onecoinfetched$500,000。

PR-savvyStemmcontrolledeveryphotoorvideooftheshipwreckanditstreasureandstruckadealwithNationalGeographictoproducetwoTVspecials。

Stemmknewitwasjustthebeginning。

“Whenwefoundthegold,weweren’tawestruck。

Itwasjustplainrelief。

”AndasMorrispointedout,coinsaren’tmoney–theyare“inventorythathastobeturnedintomoney”。

Butsalvageisn’ttheonlyrevenue-earner。

In2005,Odysseylaunchedanentertainmentunittodevelopandmanageshipwreck-themedpublicattractions。

StemmhasmetwithDisneyaboutTVandfilmprojectsbasedontheBlackSwan。

AnevenbiggerstorymayberoundthecornerifOdysseyhas,asithopes,foundthewreckoftheHMSSussex。

TheBritishwarship,whichsanknearGibraltarin1694,wassaidtobecarryingninetonnesofgold,intendedtobribetheDukeofSavoytojoinforcesagainstFrance。

IfOdysseyhaslocatedtheship,theking’sbribecouldbeworthanywherebetween$500mand$4bn,saysMichelleSeatoninWorth。

Shoulditfail,there’snoshortageoftargets。

Stemmreckonsthereare“3,000goodwrecksoutthere”tokeephisfirmbusy。

“Mygoalistomakemoneyforshareholdersandemployees,toretirewealthyandhavefundoingit。



Thefoestheyhavetofightforthetreasure

Treasurehuntingisrisky,expensive,time-consuming,andrequiresexcellentdiplomaticskills,saysMichelleSeatoninWorth。

Uncertainearningsaren’ttheonlyproblem。

Fromtheoutset,Stemm’sgreatestfearwasbecomingsnaredincostlyownershipdisputes,saysO’Reilly。

Toavoidthis,heandMorrisdecidedearlyononlyto“pursuewreckswithoutdisputeclaims,orstrikeacleandealwiththeownersrightaway”。

YetOdysseystillattractscontroversy。

Salvagelawdictatesthattreasurehuntersgettokeep90%oftheirfinds,butmuchdependsontheship’soriginalownerandwhetherotherclaimantscomeforward。

OdysseyboughttheRepublicfromAtlanticMutualInsurance(whichhadpaidoutwhenitsank)for$1。

6m,butthatdidn’tstoptheUSgovernmentpitchingintoseeifanyofthemoneyonboardbelongedtoaFederalpayroll(itdidn’t),whilearesearchfirmsuedforashare,forhelpingtolocatetheship(orsoitclaimed)。

EventhoughtheBlackSwan’sidentityhasnotofficiallybeenannounced,saysTheMailonSunday,atleastonedescendantofthecaptainoftheMerchantRoyal,JohnLimbrey,hasmadeenquiriesaboutthewreck。

Archaeologistsaretheirotherfoes。

AlthoughStemmandMorrissaytheytreatsiteswith“kidgloves”,criticsarguethatasapubliccompany,profittakesprecedenceoverpreservation。

KevinCrisman,amarinearchaeologistattheInstituteofNauticalArchaeologyatTexasAMUniversity,describedtheworkoftreasurehuntersasthe“theftofpublichistory”。

Iftheseguys“toreuptheflooroftheAcropolis”,hetoldTheNewYorkTimes,“they’dbeinjailinaminute”。

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