Friday, September 29, 2006

Shipwrecks, Coins And Salvage

Shipwrecks, Coins And Salvage

I found this to be an intriguing story, and it brings about some interesting questions about the rights of salvage, ownership and Sovereignty over underwater archaeological sites. Thats just the legal problems, it's also fascinating in the history around it and how it got there.

N.S. shipwreck discovery brews international storm

Randy Boswell
CanWest News Service
An American shipwreck hunter has found "thousands of coins" and other artifacts at a site off the coast of Nova Scotia where a War of 1812 gunboat thought to be carrying White House plunder sank in a storm on its return to Canada after the ransacking of Washington.
But the discovery, the strongest sign yet that Philadelphia-based Sovereign Exploration Associates may have discovered the remains of the legendary British frigate HMS Fantome or other ships from its fleet, sets the stage for a possible international legal showdown involving the salvage company, the British government and heritage officials in Canada and the U.S. over the future of the wreck site.
CanWest News Service has learned the British government has asked Canada to halt exploration at the possible Fantome site and insisted that nothing should be taken from the area without permission from London.
Wendy Barnable, a spokesperson with the Nova Scotia government's Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, said Wednesday the province has received a letter, via federal officials in Ottawa, in which Britain argues that the Fantome -- along with a sunken 18th-century British treasure ship, HMS Tilbury, also being sought by Sovereign off the Cape Breton coast -- "remain the property of the British government and can't be disturbed without their consent."
Describing the British intervention as unprecedented, Barnable said provincial heritage officials are studying the "very complex" issue and have, in the meantime, advised the U.S. salvager to seek British approval to continue its explorations.
In a statement announcing its latest finds, Sovereign said: "Our divers observed flatware, artifacts, ship fittings and thousands of coins. While our science team has not positively identified the vessels on the site, the new data combined with last year's recoveries . . . clearly establish the site as one of significant historical importance."
The search for the Fantome has been controversial and jurisdictionally complex because the British wreck lies in Canadian waters but is believed to hold gold and other treasures looted during a famous 1814 raid on the White House, treasury headquarters and other buildings in the U.S. capital. The same naval operation also inspired the "bombs bursting in air" imagery of The Star-Spangled Banner, the U.S. national anthem

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