American Treasure-Hunters Get Go-Ahead To Seek Sunken Gold Off Spain

Monday, March 26th 2007, 4:07 pm
By: News On 6

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ A Florida treasure-hunting firm has won permission to look for what's believed to be one of history's richest sunken bounty _ tons of gold lost in a shipwreck in 1694 off southern Spain.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, based in Tampa, has concluded negotiations with Spanish officials and can now resume a once-suspended search for the wreck of a British vessel, the HMS Sussex, in the western Mediterranean, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said Monday.

The HMS Sussex was leading a British fleet into the Mediterranean for a war against France when it sank in a storm in 1694 with 500 men and 80 guns aboard.

Historians believe the 157-foot warship was carrying nine tons of gold coins to buy the loyalty of the Duke of Savoy, a potential ally in southeastern France. Project officials said the coins could be worth more well over $500 million.

Odyssey's archeologists say they have identified a site with cannons and ship remains that seem to match that of the Sussex.

``Basically, I would be very surprised if this site is not the Sussex,'' Greg Stemm, co-chairman of Odyssey, said in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press.

The recovery is being attempted under a deal with the British government, the first such public-private arrangement for an archaeological excavation of a sovereign warship. If booty is found, the U.S. firm and Britain will split it.

International law stipulates that warships like the Sussex remain the property of the government that controlled them while in operation, no matter where they are found.

The Spanish ministry official said the Madrid government will respect the rule, regardless of whether the shipwreck is found in Spanish or international waters.

In 2003, Odyssey located the wreck of the American steamer SS Republic and $75 million in gold coins and artifacts off the coast of Georgia. That ship sank in 1865.