Lord Lingfield, senior Conservative Peer, Chairman of the Maritime Heritage Foundation and advisor to every Conservative Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher, has broken his long silence to give an interview to the Telegraph’s Joe Shute and in so doing made some remarkable claims for the controversial HMS Victory 1744 Project. thePipeLine decided to run our Fact Checker [and, as you will see, also our Spell Checker] over Lord Lingfield’s statements about the project and his relationship with Odyssey Marine Exploration, concentrating on the comments which appear in quotation marks as verbatim quotations in the on-line version of the Telegraph interview [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/11411508/Tory-Lord-defends-the-treasure-hunt-for-HMS-Victory.html].
CLAIM ONE: LORD LINGFIELD DID NOT CLAIM TO BE A DESCENDANT OF ADMIRAL Sir JOHN BALCHEN
What Lord Lingfield said to the Telegraph: “I do not claim nor have ever claimed, whatever anybody else has claimed for me, that he has been an ancestor,” he says.
But he insists there is a – somewhat tenuous – family connection which means he can describe Sir John as a “kinsman”.”
What Lord Lingfield used to say: In this interview given as part of Odyssey Marine Exploration’s public presentation of the HMS Victory 1744 find at Canary Wharf in February 2009 Lord Lingfield does not contradict the interviewer Brian Sullivan when he is twice described as the “great descendent actually ten generations removed” from Admiral Balchen and Lord Lingfield himself refers to Admiral Balchen as his “forebear”.
The dictionary definition of forbear is
“An ancestor progenitor, [usually more remote than a grandfather].” [Shorter Oxford English Dictionary]
Lord Lingfield also described Admiral Balchen as his “forebear” in his formal response to the UK Government consultation on the future management of HMS Victory 1744 which he wrote in June 2010. This usage by Lord Lingfield is consistent with Odyssey’s presentation of Lord Lingfield as a Balchen descendant in its press release about the Victory find which states [Our Italics].
“Sir Robert Balchin, descendant of Admiral Sir John Balchin, stated, “This is the most astonishing news; for generations my family has wondered about the fate of Sir John and the Victory. Now that the wreck has been found, I and my family hope that as many of the artifacts on it as possible will be raised to the surface;…”
What thePipeLine says: This comment appears designed to distance Lord Lingfield from Odyssey’s branding of the HMS Victory Project as “Balchin’s Victory” and as a human interest story where Lord Lingfield is presented as a descendant of the Admiral with an emotional investment in the project for supposed family reasons. The problem is that until this interview Lord Lingfield seemed happy to go along with the rebranding and even cooperated with it as in the Fox Business interview and his response to the Government consultation.
CLAIM 2: THE SPELLING OF ADMIRAL BALCHEN’S NAME WAS CHANGED TO MATCH LORD LINGFIELD’S
What Lord Lingfield said to the Telegraph: ” …the Balchen/Balchin dispute is due to a propensity in previous centuries to not settle on the correct spelling of names. ”
What thePipeLine says: This is in part true, the spellings of most words in modern English were only fixed with the development of mass print media and modern dictionaries. However, the documentary evidence contemporary with Admiral Balchen’s life is clear that the Admiral’s name should be spelled BALCHEN. The muster roll for HMS Victory which includes the Admiral’s name, the Balchen/Temple West family Monuments in Westminster Abbey, including the monument to Admiral Balchen set up by his daughter Frances, and a biography of the Admiral published in 1787 all use the BALCHEN spelling.
The question then arises, with all this contemporaneous historical evidence why was this spelling not adopted by Odyssey and the Maritime Heritage Foundation when the information is easily available in the public domain and when Lord Lingfield himself funded a restoration of the Westminster monument to Admiral Balchen?
It is clear Odyssey are aware of this issue because in their published reports about the HMS Victory 1744 Project Odyssey uses BALCHEN when quoting contemporary reports and the BALCHIN spelling in their modern copy.
Dominic Kennedy of the Times newspaper proved, that the Balchin Family Society website was also changed between 2007 and 2011 to reflect the revised spelling of Admiral Balchen’s name preferred by Odyssey.
The Balchen Family Society web site on 28 September 2007 prior to the finding of HMS Victory by Odyssey Marine Exploration compared to the same website on 21 July 2011 shortly after the foundation of the Maritime Heritage Foundation.
This all looks suspiciously as if a process of corporate rebranding was going on, “Norwich Union” becomes “Avivia,” “Marathon” snack bars become “Snickers” and “Admiral Balchen” becomes “Admiral Balchin” because it plays better to your target audience in the market place. Or perhaps they just installed a new Spell Checker?
CLAIM 3: THE CLAIM ODYSSEY KNOWS OF A SHIPMENT OF GOLD BULLION CARRIED ON HMS VICTORY
What Lord Lingfield said to the Telegraph: “What you’re suggesting to me is they or I know the presence of all sorts of stuff in there which they will grab hold of. I can assure you absolutely I know of no such thing and nobody at Odyssey knows of any such thing.”
What Odyssey said about treasure on HMS Victory: A spokesperson for the Odyssey told thePipeLine [our emphasis]
“We are looking forward to returning to the site in furtherance of the archaeological recovery and conservation of this important piece of history, in accordance with the approved project design. At this point, it would be premature to speculate about what may be recovered or changes to the condition of the shipwreck site since 2012. As has been previously outlined the treatment of the wreck and associated artifacts will be in accordance with the approved project design (which conforms to the annex to the UNESCO Convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage, The Museum Associations Code of Ethics, the government’s heritage policy) and UK law. ”
Funny that, because Odyssey has been quite happy to speculate about a massive cargo of precious metals in the past starting with the very first press release about the find in 2009
Admiral Balchin’s HMS Victory Discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration
World’s Mightiest Ship Was Lost Without a Trace in 1744 – Mystery Solved
Discovery Channel’s “Treasure Quest” program reveals behind-the-scenes look at the discovery and exploration of the deep-ocean shipwreck site
Tampa, FL – February 2, 2009 – Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. (NasdaqCM: OMEX), pioneers in the field of deep-ocean shipwreck exploration, has discovered the long-sought shipwreck of HMS Victory lost in 1744, solving one of the greatest mysteries in naval history.
…Research indicates that Balchin’s Victory sank with a substantial amount of gold and silver specie aboard.
NB: The clue is in the name of the TV series “Treasure Quest”.
Lord Lingfield’s comments will also come as a surprise to the viewers of the interview with Fox Business discussed earlier, where Lord Lingfield happily runs with the interviewers speculations on the presence of the cargo of bullion which Odyssey deliberately placed in the public domain through their press release, thus also drawing the site to the attention of potential looters.
Claims of a treasure worth several hundred million dollars then became a core feature of Odyssey’s marketing strategy for the HMS Victory project, where the prospect of a bullion cargo was dangled in front of investors. For example in January 2013 Odyssey’s then Chief Operating Officer, now Chief Executive Officer, Mr Mark Gordon, delivered a presentation to potential investors at the Noble Capital Markets Conference. The presentation was subsequently made available on that company’s website.
In Slide 12, (a slide. headed “Recovery Model 2012 to 2015*”), the slide refers to HMS Victory as having a potential value of $250 million to be monetised over the period 2013-2018 at a rate of approximately $50-$75 million per year.
Two hundred and fifty million dollars is a big ticket to know nothing about, so if Lord Lingfield is correct and nobody at Odyssey “knows any such thing” why did that press release and those presentations at investor conferences, claim a multi million dollar cargo and attract investors on the back of the claims?
On the face of it Lord Lingfield is either misleading the public with his comment, or Odyssey has been misleading potential shareholders. Either way it is a very serious matter.
CLAIM 4: ODYSSEY MARINE EXPLORATION WILL UNDERTAKE THE WORK “PRO BONO”
What Lord Lingfield said to the Telegraph: “The only thing in it for Odyssey is to do a superb bit of pro bono archaeology,” says Lord Lingfield. “It is an irony that the more they have been attacked, in these I think highly improbable and vicious ways, the more they’ve determined to prove they will continue to do good archaeology and (be) the only outfit in the world that can do this.”
What thePipeLine says: The term PRO BONO is generally taken to mean “for the public good” and in the legal profession refers to work done for free, or at a rate far below the normal commercial return. If it genuinely is the case that Odyssey will conduct the work on HMS Victory “Pro Bono” then that too will come as a surprise to Odyssey’s share holders because Odyssey has consistently argued it will make a substantial return on its investment in the HMS Victory Project.
The published terms of the HMS Victory project contract with the Maritime Heritage Foundation given in an Odyssey Press release dated 2 February 2012, state this explicitly
“The agreement calls for Odyssey’s project costs to be reimbursed and for Odyssey to be paid a percentage of the recovered artifacts’ fair value. The preferred option is for Odyssey to be compensated in cash. However, if the Foundation determines, based on the principles adopted for its own collection management and curation policy, that it is in its best interest to de-accession certain artifacts, the Foundation may choose to compensate Odyssey with artifacts in lieu of cash.
•Odyssey will receive the equivalent of 80% of the fair value of artifacts which were primarily used in trade or commerce or were private property and bear no direct connection to the construction, navigation, defense or crew of the ship, such as coins or other cargo.
•Odyssey will receive the equivalent of 50% of the fair value of all other objects typically associated with the construction, crewing and sailing of ships including, but not limited to, the ship’s hull, fittings, fasteners, construction elements, clothing, organic remains, foodstuffs, cooking utensils, pottery, weapons, ammunition, ground tackle and navigational equipment.
•For any private property including coins or other cargo administered through the Receiver of Wreck, the Foundation has agreed that Odyssey shall receive 80% of the value.”
In other words this is an overtly commercial salvage contract and far from working “Pro Bono,” as Lord Lingfield claims Odyssey’s published contractual arrangements confirm that it expects to be paid twice, first for its recovery and archaeological work and second for the value of the material it recovers.
Incidentally, this is a far more expensive way of conducting archaeology than the standard financial model where a project would be conducted at cost, without further compensation based on an artificial valuation of artifacts based on their projected value at auction.
If Odyssey has changed the published terms of the contract it announced in 2012 and is determined to work “Pro Bono” as Lord Lingfield suggests, then two questions arise
1. Why has Odyssey not told its shareholders it intends to work “Pro Bono”?
2. Given Odyssey’s massive debts and the fact that the Maritime Heritage Foundation had just £65,000 in the Bank at the end of the 2013/2014 Financial Year, how will this multi million pound project be funded?
Finally, far from being the “only outfit in the world that can do this.” HMS Victory is actually within reach of modern technical divers of whom there are many in the UK thanks to advances in technology and the UK’s expertise in the offshore oil and gas industry. It would be a simple matter, although still expensive, to devise a project design for the archaeological study of HMS Victory 1744 based on the use of divers rather than Odyssey’s ROV’s.
CLAIM 5: ARTIFACTS FROM HMS VICTORY CANNOT BE SOLD
What Lord Lingfield said to the Telegraph: “I can guarantee you that anything in the ownership of the MHF will remain in its ownership and will, if possible, be exhibited. What is brought up and belongs to the foundation will, firstly, all be conserved. The second thing I can guarantee is it will not, or cannot, be disposed of without explicit written agreement of the Secretary of State. There’s nothing I can do about it even if I want to.”
What thePipeLine says: The key phrase here is “…anything in the ownership of the MHF…”. As Lord Lingfield undoubtedly knows and as the Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon will have been told by his legal advisors, the Deed of Gift for HMS Victory, and thus the powers of the Secretary of State for Defence to control the destination of artifacts from the wreck, only extend to the items on the wreck owned by the Crown, such as the ship itself, her weapons and anything marked with the Government “broad arrow”. Crucially it does not extend to the personal property of the crew be it a lice comb, small change, or the treasure chest of a Lisbon merchant.
These private items would, if raised, be declared to the UK Receiver of Wreck and if and when the Receiver fails to locate any legal owner, which is likely, the items would be returned to the salvor. In this case, in its most recent quarterly 10K filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Odyssey claimed “Odyssey is recognized by the MHF and under maritime law, as the salvor-in-possession of the wreck.” If it were able to prove this status Odyssey would then be free to do as it pleases with such items including negotiating the sale of such items back to the Maritime Heritage Foundation, or placing them on commercial sale through specialist dealers or even at auction. However, whether Odyssey can actually be “salvor in possession” when access and permission to work at the wreck site is controlled by the Ministry of Defence through the Deed of Gift and the UK Marine Management Organisation thorough a statutory licencing process is fiercely disputed. If the Maritime Heritage Foundation has indeed recognised Odyssey as the “salvor in possession” of HMS Victory that may amount to an unenforceable, or even unlawful contract and a breach of the MOD’s rights under the Deed of Gift. [http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/OMEX/4008268301x0xS1193125-14-406075/798528/filing.pdf]
thePipeLine Concludes: the more that the Maritime Heritage Foundation and Odyssey Marine Exploration are forced to go on the record with apparent details and reassurances about the HMS Victory Project, the more the inescapable contradictions the project embodies become clear.
Lord Lingfield cannot escape the fact that the HMS Victory 1744 project is an overtly commercial venture. Something he himself admitted in his response to the consultation in 2010 where he wrote, incidentally lobbying on behalf of Odyssey Marine Exploration at the same time.
“I absolutely believe, therefore, that a commercial model featuring a public/private partnership will give currently the best opportunity to save this ship without cost to the Treasury. It is my hope that officials will discuss a suitable arrangement with Odyssey Marine Exploration and other firms with the same expertise and equipment, should there be any. I suspect that, given the fact that Odyssey has done a considerable amount of work already, they will be the best option.”
[Sir Robert Balchin to the DCMS, June 2010 released under the Freedom of Information Act]
In that context what is most interesting about this interview to students of politics is how close it comes to the some of the comments made in Parliament by another right wing Conservative, the late Alan Clarke MP who later confessed in his diaries to having been “economical with the actualité.” Lord Lingfield is only doing what any experienced political operator would when challenged, Spinning.
Perhaps Admiral Sir John Balchen may also be spinning, but in his maritime military grave rather than using the pages of a major newspaper.