Finders (Not) Keepers?
There is an age-old children’s axiom asserting one’s right to keep whatever one finds, but unfortunately that doesn’t quite apply in the world of sunken treasure. Some items lying in the ocean bed carry extreme historical significance. In one recent case, American treasure hunters found half a billion dollars’ worth of silver and gold from the wreck of Spanish warship Mercedes, but had to surrender the loot to Spain after the Spanish government won a court ruling.
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There is a marked difference in a treasure hunting expedition and a salvage operation. Unlike the latter, the owner of the wreckage remains unclear, especially if it is too old. In this scenario, the treasure can be kept by its salvager. The Mercedes shipwreck, on the other hand, had a clear country of origin and was successfully reclaimed by Spain after a lawsuit.
The only pirate ship every discovered belonged to a very wealthy pirate by the name of Captain “Black Sam” Bellamy. Once a slave ship, the Whydah Gally was captured by Bellamy, who transferred its survivors on another one of his vessels while keeping the captured ship as his prize. The ship was subsequently discovered about over a century later in 1984 by Barry Clifford, and valued at approximately $400 million. More than 200,000 precious jewelry, coins and cannons have been surfaced to date, with even more being discovered today.
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Billion Dollar Fugitive
Treasure hunter Tommy Thompson recovered $1 billion worth of gold from the wreckage of the SS Central America, and went into hiding. The site was discovered in the late ‘80s, and Thompson sold salvaged artifacts for approximately $40 – $52 million. Though the law finally caught up with the 63-year-old, he refuses to reveal where he hid the rest of treasure and remains in prison.
It’s ‘all or nothing’ when it comes to the Danish military. Instead of surrendering their precious Navy over to the Nazis, the Danish military sank 32 of their vessels, with four headed for neutral Sweden. Of the original fleet of 52 vessels, only 14 fell in the hands of the Nazi. While 9 sailors perished with a significant number held captive by the Nazi, the act of defiance strengthened the morale of the Danish Resistance.
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