EXPLAINER: SPOT THE DIFFERENCE HMS VICTORY 1744 & OMEX

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Lord Lingfield, Dr Sean Kingsley, Rebecca Blackwood and the trustees of the Maritime Heritage Foundation process through the City of London on their way to speak to the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group about HMS Victory 1744.
[thePipeLine]

 

Sources in Westminster have told thePipeLine that Maritime Archaeologist Dr Sean Kingsley of the consultancy Wreck Watch International  and Public Relations consultant Rebecca Blackwood, will the be addressing the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group [APPAG] in a House of Lords committee room on Tuesday evening [2 February 2016].  The visit is designed as a briefing session to allow members of APPAG to hear first hand about the plans of the Maritime Heritage Foundation for the controversial HMS Victory 1744 project and it follows a similar briefing given by Mr Robert Yorke of the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee [JNAPC] at a previous APPAG meeting where Mr Yorke outlined the concerns of the archaeological community regarding the project.  Dr Kingsley and Ms Blackwood are also expected to ask the members of APPAG to support calls to have the MHF’s permission to recover at risk objects from the HMS Victory wreck site reinstated by the Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon.  Mr Fallon granted permission for the recovery in October 2014, only to have to withdraw permission in March 2015 in the face of the threat of a Judicial Review of his decision on grounds of a flawed process and the high probability granting permission breached stated Government Policy.

In the past the Maritime Heritage Foundation has faced criticism over what are alleged to be its close links with Florida based, treasure hunting company, Odyssey Marine Exploration which located the HMS Victory wreck site and which the MHF contracted to undertake the recovery of artefacts in January 2012.  Indeed, it has even been argued that the charity, set up in the Autumn of 2010 by senior Conservative peer and close political associate of Mr Fallon and Prime Minister David Cameron, Sir Robert Balchin, Lord Lingfield, is little more than a front designed to enable Odyssey to access the wreck of HMS Victory and the cargo of bullion which Odyssey alleges was carried on board when the ship was lost in a storm in the English Channel in October 1744.

In the light of that accusation, thePipeLine is publishing this handy “Spot the Difference” guide to demonstrate to Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Lords who will be attending the APPAG meeting, and anyone else with an interest in maritime archaeology, that Lord Lingfield’s UK registered charity and the US based treasure hunting company and exclusive service provider to California based coin dealer and wholesaler Monaco Financial LLC , are completely separate organisations.

 

 

OME/MHF SPOT THE DIFFERENCE 1

  • Admiral Sir John Balchen was the famous fighting Admiral who was lost on HMS Victory in 1744 alongside his entire crew of over one thousand.  The monument to the Admiral in Westminster Abbey put up by his daughter Francis spells his name BALCHEN, as does another 18th century source, a  biography published in 1787 and HMS Victory’s muster roll.

 

  • Odyssey Marine Exploration and the project website HMS Victory 1744.org spell the Admirals name BALCHIN which is the way the Chair of the Maritime Heritage Foundation Sir Robert Balchin, Lord Lingfield spells his name.

On 4 January 2014 Dominic Kennedy of the Times newspaper published an article which demonstrated that the Balchin family website, which is run by Lord Lingfield, had been changed to use the spelling of Admiral Balchen’s name favoured by Odyssey and Lord Lingfield after the stated author of the page had died, but during the period when Odyssey had started to work with Lord Lingfield and was trying to persuade the UK Government to allow the company to salvage the ship.

 

 

OME/MHF SPOT THE DIFFERENCE 2

  • The Liaison Officer for the Maritime Heritage Foundation and author of the licence application to the Marine Management Organisation for the HMS Victory 1744 project is Dr Sean Kingsley, the Director of Wreck Watch International.

 

  • A long standing consultant to Odyssey Marine Exploration is Dr Sean Kingsley, the Director of Wreck Watch International.  Dr Kingsley is seen working with Odyssey in the TV series “Treasure Quest” and “Billion Dollar Wreck Hunt”.  He also submitted an academic analysis of coins and cannon found on the wreck of the Spanish frigate “Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes” which was entered in evidence by Odyssey during the long running litigation in the United States which led to Odyssey being forced to return to Spain the 17.5 tons of silver coins it unlawfully recovered from the wreck having claimed the wreck could not be proven to be the Mercedes.  A contention supported by Dr Kingsley’s affadavit.  Ultimately US Judge Stephen R Merryday described Odyssey’s claim of ignorance of the wreck’s identity as  “…an unacceptable enormity propounded and maintained in bad faith and for an improper purpose.”

 

Of course, although Dr Kingsley is on the record as questioning the result of the legal process in the Mercedes case, he cannot be held in anyway responsible for the conduct of his employer, Odyssey, as described by the Judge, and his own conduct has never been questioned.

 

 

OME/MHF SPOT THE DIFFERENCE 3

  • The Public Relations Officer for HMS Victory 1744.org is Rebecca Blackwood of RJB Arts who describes herself on her Twitter feed as “Communicator & commissioner for culture, creatives, museums & brands. Poetry lover, captivated by archaeology of deep seas.”

 

  • The UK Public Relations Officer for Odyssey Marine Exploration is Rebecca Blackwood of RJB Arts who describes herself on her Twitter feed as “Communicator & commissioner for culture, creatives, museums & brands. Poetry lover, captivated by archaeology of deep seas.”

[According to a Ministry of  Defence press release in January 2012 the Public Relations Officer for Odyssey Marine Exploration and the Maritime Heritage Foundation, when the wreck of HMS Victory 1744 was gifted to the Maritime Heritage Foundation, was Rebecca Blackwood, then of the high end PR company the Brunswick Group]

 

 

OME/MHF SPOT THE DIFFERENCE 4

  • The Secretary of the Maritime Heritage Foundation is Mr John Simkins.

 

  • The head of the Ministry of Defence, Disposals Services Agency [DSA] , which administered Odyssey Marine Exploration’s HMS Sussex Project and the early phase of the HMS Victory 1744 Project on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, between 2006 and 2009 was a Mr John Simkins.

This has to be a co-incidence.

OMEX Archaeonautas You Tube

The Odyssey promotional video selling coins from the Arqueonautas project on the Sao Jose
[Public Domain via You Tube]

 

OME/MHF SPOT THE DIFFERENCE 5

  • Odyssey Marine Exploration is the exclusive Service Provider to rare coin dealers Monaco Financial LLC through its specially created subsidiary Magellan Offshore Services.  The business model for Odyssey/Magellan is based on the “monetization” of “valuable trade cargo”.  This is contrary to the principles of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage which the vast majority of archaeologists and many Governments including Spain and France, accept as the ethical basis for maritime archaeology.  The UK Government accepts the principles in the Annex to the Convention as its stated policy for Maritime Archaeology.

 

  • The Maritime Heritage Foundation has a “Scientific Committee” which is made up of entirely of people who, while a minority in the archaeological community, happen to have supported an Odyssey style commercial business model for maritime archaeology allowing the commercial sale of artefacts and opposing the UNESCO Convention.  These persons are;
Cmdr John Bingeman RN Rtd:  Cdr Bingeman is the former Licencee for the historic wreck HMS Invincible and he  is on the record as being a supporter of selling material from wreck sites to raise funds.  Indeed the company Invincible Conservations [1744-1758] Ltd [ICL] sold 298 artefacts from HMS Invincible at Christie‟s .

Ivor Nöel Hume:  A distinguished British born archaeologist specialising in the Early Modern period and best known for his work in the USA at Colonial Williamsberg, in 2008 Mr Nöel Hume accepted an invitation to visit Odyssey’s Tampa headquarters and comment on their work.  He subsequently defended the company’s commercial business model and disposal of artefacts in an on-line debate with members of the Society for Historic Archaeology and other experts.

In his autobiography Ivor Nöel Hume did express reservations about Odyssey [Our Italics];

” I was appalled when Odyssey made a Discovery Channel series titled Treasure Quest and allowed its archaeologist to mug for the camera wearing a pirate’s hat. Archaeology, it seemed, was no more than a self-serving veneer to cover a greed for gold, and I had taken the bait. “
Noël Hume, Ivor,  A Passion for the Past, University of Virginia Press.

However, in the same book he also acknowledged a long working relationship with Dr Margaret Rule.

The late Dr Margaret Rule CBE:  The late Dr Margaret Rule, the founding Chair of the Maritime Heritage Foundation Scientific Committee,  was best known for her major role in directing the iconic excavation and recovery of Henry VIII’s flagship “Mary Rose“.  However later in her career Dr Rule took the controversial position that the monetization of material from historic shipwrecks by commercial salvage companies was an acceptable position if it funded archaeological work.  From 1999 Dr Rule was associated, in an advisory role, with another treasure hunting company Arqueonautas Worldwide, which has also been a business partner of Odyssey Marine Exploration.
In the year 2000, while Dr Rule was associated with the company as a member of its “Scientific Committee”, Arqueonautas  sold material which had been raised without permission from the US Navy Sloop of War the USS Yorktown.  This action resulted in an investigation by the US Departments of the Navy and State, which successfully demanded the return of the material.
The two companies, Odyssey and Arqueonautas,  also collaborated on the legal, but in widely accepted archaeological terms unethical, sale of coins from the Portuguese ship Sao Jose lost off Mozambique.  Indeed Odyssey posted a sales video which is still available on You Tube

Dr Rule also worked with John Bingeman as Archaeological Director on the HMS Invincible project.

 

 

OME/MHF SPOT THE DIFFERENCE 6

  • In the 2010 Government consultation on the future management of the HMS Victory 1744 wreck site Lord Lingfield, then Sir John Balchin, wrote;

“I would wish to found a charitable trust to bring together a partnership to collaborate in the reclamation and exhibition of the wonderful artefacts from Balchin’s Victory.”

He used the same submission and subsequent contacts with the Ministry of Defence, Navy Command, to lobby for Odyssey Marine Exploration to get the contract to salvage HMS Victory and for changes in the permission which would have had the effect of favouring Odyssey’s business model, even at the cost of his own charity incurring higher charges.

  • In its submission to the 2010 Government consultation on the future management of the HMS Victory 1744 wreck site Odyssey Marine Exploration wrote;

“Odyssey is prepared to work closely with any non-profit organisation that might be formed for the purpose of promoting the preservation of Balchin’s Victory.”

The Department for Culture Media and Sport’s Executive Summary to the HMS Victory 1744 Consultation concluded;

“As it is unlikely that Departmental funds can be made available at this time to take work forward, other funding options have to be explored. The Government, therefore, supports the proposal to set up a charitable trust to manage the site, subject to appropriate archaeological safeguards.”

Which was a very happy result for everyone and nothing at all to do with the un-minuted meeting “on the constituency net” which Lord Lingfield had with then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in July 2010, where HMS Victory “was discussed”.  Just like the procurement of the London Garden Bridge, the process of gifting the HMS Victory wreck site to the MHF was entirely open and fair and nothing was pre-judged.

 

ANOTHER SPOT THE DIFFERENCE

  • The co-founder and former CEO of Odyssey is Gregory P Stemm.   Mr Stemm was CEO of Odyssey at the time of the gifting of HMS Victory 1744 to the Maritime Heritage Foundation.
  • The independent consultant to both Magellan Offshore Services and Odyssey Marine Exploration, working out of Odyssey’s Tampa office is Gregory P Stemm.

The recent deal by which Odyssey offloaded the financial risk for its shipwreck projects to Magellan Offshore Services, and through Magellan to coin dealers Monaco Financial LLC, grants Magellan financial benefits and influence over the HMS Victory 1744 project including the right to profit from the monetisation [i.e. sale] of “valuable trade cargo.”

The consultant overseeing this relationship is Gregory P Stemm.

 

It is also because Odyssey Marine Exploration and the Maritime Heritage Foundation are completely different organisations that;

  1.  The Maritime Heritage Foundation awarded Odyssey a commercial Salvage contract, on terms which independent analysis say is disadvantageous and more expensive even than a regular commercial salvage contract, without taking independent advice or putting the contract out to tender.
  2. According to an e-mail sent by Lord Lingfield, the Scientific Committee of the Maritime Heritage Foundation authorised seabed works on the HMS Victory 1744 site in the Summer of 2012 in spite of the fact neither the MHF nor Odyssey had taken out a licence from the Marine Management Organisation [MMO].  Something Lord Lingfield and Dr Kingsley were told explicitly that they were required to do by an official of English Heritage [now Historic England] months earlier.  An action which led to a formal investigation and Official Written Warning Letter sent to Odyssey in lieu of a prosecution by the MMO.
  3. The Maritime Heritage Foundation appears to have made no attempt to raise funds independently for what is a multi-million pound project. 

 

The Biggest Difference between Odyssey Marine Exploration and the Maritime Heritage Foundation

According to its most recent accounts the Maritime Heritage Foundation is in actually in credit with just over £50k [or one and a half day’s rent of the OMEX research ship Odyssey Explorer] in the Bank.

According to its most recent accounts Odyssey Marine Exploration has debts of almost $20 million, with $14.75 million of that debt falling due in just eight weeks at the end of March 2016.  The company also owns few remaining assets which have not already been sold or used as security, and little if any discernible income.  A recent commercial project in the eastern Mediterranean led to the seizure of the company research vessel Odyssey Explorer and its cargo by the Government of Cyprus for Customs violations and a fine of €40k.  While to cap it all, Odyssey also has accumulated losses of around $228 million.

 

 

At the end of George Orwell’s novel “Animal Farm”;

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

But this literary allusion has nothing to do with Odyssey Marine Exploration and the Maritime Heritage Foundation, which are, as stated at the outset, completely separate organisations where everyone concerned has behaved entirely transparently, legally and ethically at all times, without a single conflict of interest.