Odyssey Explorer wearing her previous yellow livery working off Cornwall
[Courtesy of Astrid Harrison]
07.26 GMT: 29 December 2015: *NEWS UPDATE*
The Government of Cyprus has told thePipeLine;
“…the Republic of Cyprus does not wish to make any further comments besides those made yesterday by the foreign minister (https://in.news.yahoo.com/
Limassol based detective Yiannis Soteriades also told reporters that the Cypriot authorities had informed Interpol about the seizure.
It was also revealed that more than 600, “mostly porcelain” vessels were seized which appear to have been taken from a sunken ship.
29 December 2015: *NEWS UPDATE*
The investigation as to the origin of artefacts discovered aboard Odyssey Explorer in the port of Limassol, Cyprus still has some way to run according to local press reports.
The investigation now appears to be focussed on whether the material taken from Odyssey explorer by Cypriot Police and officials was recovered from within the Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ] of Lebanon and it is reported that an expert from Lebanon is expected in Cyprus to liaise with the Cypriot authorities which searched the vessel and seized the cargo on 24 December.
As a measure of how seriously the issue is being taken by Cyprus, the situation appears to have been discussed at Cabinet level on Monday 28 December 2015.
After the Cabinet meeting Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told the media;
“It is not clear; according to a piece of information [the ship] was located in the EEZ of Lebanon, therefore an expert from Lebanon has been invited and is expected to arrive,”
Mr Kasoulides indicated that legal opinions were required from the Cyprus Attorney-general and he did not rule out the possibility that the vessel and/or the seized material might be handed over to Lebanon.
Meanwhile analysts have noted that the claim in Odyssey’s press comment released on Christmas Eve that the vessel concerned is”not identifiable by name nor country of origin,” is almost certainly premature as it must pre-date any proper study of the material recovered.
The same analysts note that Odyssey has issued statements allegedly deliberately obscuring the identity of wreck sites in the past. Most controversially that of the Spanish frigate Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which Odyssey codenamed “Black Swan” and attempted to tell the US courts was not even a wreck site at all, in spite of the presence of artefacts which were shown categorically to have come from the Mercedes.
The press comment also uses the term “trade cargo” which is Odyssey’s code phrase for items which it expects to be able to “monetise” i.e sell. This, coupled with the company invoking a “non-disclosure agreement” and recent reports that the company has been paid up to $3 million for Odyssey Explorer’s current deployment to the Eastern Mediterranean, suggests that, far from conducting a conventional archaeological operations, the company is in fact executing a commercial salvage contract looking for a named vessel.
25 December 2015: *NEWS UPDATE*
Cypriot Police spokesperson Andreas Angelides tell the Cyprus Mail ancient artefacts seized from the Odyssey Marine Exploration vessel Odyssey Explorer are not unique to Cyprus.
However Mr Angelides confirmed the origin of the objects was still under investigation as was whether they were on board Odyssey Explorer legally.
“We continue investigations. If the artefacts are not Cypriot and if it is proven they were not found within Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the Republic is obliged to protect antiquities under a number of treaties, and procedures will be followed depending on the findings,”
Mr Angelides added
“The items have been transferred to a storage facility at the customs office where they will be guarded until investigations are completed.”
Confirming that lawyers for parties with an interest in the case were monitoring the investigation Mr Angelides concluded.
“What we need to stress is that the matter is being carefully handled.”
Mr Angelides comments suggest that the material seized does not include the distinctive Cypriot ceramics of the kind that could have been aboard the bark Napreid when she sank in 1872.
14.15 GMT 24 December 2015: *NEWS UPDATE* ODYSSEY MARINE EXPLORATION RELEASE PRESS STATEMENT
“Odyssey Marine Exploration has been conducting a deep -ocean archaeological project in the Eastern Mediterranean under contract. The project has been conducted legally and Odyssey has not conducted any operations in Cypriot waters. Any statements to the contrary are false. The shipwreck on which the company has been conducting an archaeological operation appears to be a cargo vessel dating to the early to mid-17th century (1600-1650) with a primary cargo of agricultural goods, porcelain, glazed pottery and other trade cargo. The site is not identifiable by name nor country of origin. The project design anticipates full publication of the results of the operation and exhibit of the recovered artifacts.
We understand the actions taken by the local authorities were based on a false report. Odyssey is fully cooperating and the company is confident the authorities will quickly confirm that Odyssey was neither working in Cypriot waters nor recovering ancient artefacts.
On this project, Odyssey is subject to a non-disclosure agreement under the contract and cannot provide further details.”
13.33 GMT 24 December 2015
Just days after Odyssey Marine Exploration announced a tie in with California based coin dealer Monaco, news has come from Cyprus that the company research vessel Odyssey Explorer has been searched and the crew questioned on suspicion of illegal treasure hunting. Reportedly acting after a tip off to both the Transport and Foreign Ministries the Cypriot authorities are understood to have seized the vessel’s cargo which includes fifty seven crates, a number of which are described as containing “ancient artefacts” and “artefacts dating to the 18th century” which officials from the Cyprus Antiquities department are due to inspect today, Thursday 24 December. The authorities are also attempting to ascertain the position from which the artefacts were recovered and whether they were within Cypriot or Lebanese jurisdiction.
Reports indicate that the Odyssey explorer had been working east of Cyprus and AIS position reports suggested that she was engaged in some form of deep sea recovery, possibly at more than one location, although the company had made no statements regarding this either to the media or the US Securities and Exchange Commission. However, the most consistent position was some 60km due west of Beirut in the Lebanese Economic Zone. This has led to the suggestion that the Cypriot Government might be working at the request of the Lebanon.
Certainly it has been suggested in the past that the company was searching the area between Lebanon and Cyprus for the sailing ship Napreid, which burnt out and sank off the Levant in 1872 while allegedly carrying a cargo of Cypriot Antiquities for Luigi Palma di Cesnola, the first director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. However, it is not yet known if there is any connection between the search for the Napreid and the current investigation by Cyprus.
It is also the case that thePipeLine has identified at least four other wrecks in the same general area which are alleged to be the target of treasure hunters, although at least one is believed to have been claimed to be carrying a valuable cargo as an insurance fraud. The Eastern Mediterranean and Levant have also been a maritime highway for millennia, so wrecks of any period might carry cargoes which could be defined as treasure.
While there is no evidence as yet that Odyssey has done anything unlawful, the authorities in Cyprus will be aware that Odyssey Marine Exploration has a track record of unlawful activity at sea including the recovery without permission of 17.5 tons of silver from the Spanish frigate Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes off the southern coast of Portugal in 2007 and working on the wreck site of HMS Victory 1744 without a Marine Licence from the UK Government in 2012. The UK authorities and archaeological community will also be watching the progress of the Cypriot investigation closely as Odyssey is the appointed contractor for the Maritime Heritage Foundation which has now applied for a licence to excavate HMS Victory 1744 and one of the company’s seagoing archaeologists is understood to be a UK national.
More on this developing story as we get it.