By Neil Hartnell
A leading Bahamian law firm yesterday told Tribune Business that an wreck salvaging industry worth potentially "hundreds of millions of dollars" might have been unleashed by law changes passed this week, disclosing that it had been contacted by "three-four major salvage groups" already.
The Bahamian law firm, well-known to Tribune Business but requesting anonymity because it wanted to protect clients still in the infancy of their exploration discussions, said amendments to the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Bill passed by the House of Assembly had paved the way for a sector that could create numerous tourism and cultural spin-offs.
The firm was meeting with one party interested in salvage/excavation opportunities in Bahamian waters in Miami yesterday, and said it was "sure" the amendments - which lay out the statutory framework governing such operations in this nation's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) - would "encourage a broad-based, viable and sustainable industry, centred in, and around, the northern Bahamas, Little Bahama Bank and the island of Grand Bahama, in particular".
Confirming it had suggested the 75/25 profit split between excavator and government, based on points, for each artifact discovered in Bahamian waters, a top partner at the law firm, speaking to Tribune Business on condition of anonymity, said: "We've had a number of calls from international treasure salvagers who are keenly interested in salvaging the Bahamas, and have been keen to do so for many years.
"This interest goes back for at least five years. We've heard of at least two wrecks. We'd say it could possibly be an industry in the hundreds of millions. It has terrific touristic and cultural potential.
"We've already had interest from three or four major groups, and we think more will come. There's said to be 200 wrecks around Grand Bahama alone."
Wreck exploration and salvaging, and the prospect of finding valuable artifacts, could be another potential economic sector for a Bahamian economy desperately in need of diversification and new revenue/employment sources.
A moratorium on such activities had been in place for several years, and that - coupled with uncertainty over the legal, regulatory and profit-sharing regime governing it - had deterred major international salvagers from dipping their toe into the Bahamian market.
Given this nation's position at the heart of the Caribbean, Atlantic and Florida waterways, and rich history (having been discovered by Christopher Columbus, and later used as a piracy bolt-hole), it would seem likely there are numerous wrecks in deep-lying Bahamian waters.
"It could have great touristic spin-offs and job spin-offs, not only on the boats," the law firm's leading partner told Tribune Business. "You set up a processing centre, where you clean and certify artifacts. That's an industry by itself."
The attorney said many Bahamians had made money by salvaging wrecks they knew about, referring to one now-deceased Abaconian who had known the whereabouts of a major wreck, and had been able to recover gold coins and other valuable artifacts.
That, though, had reached the stage where major heavy-duty equipment was required to complete any further salvage.