The remains of the first HMS Victory could be raised from the sea bed nearly 300 years after it sank.
The vessel, predecessor of Nelson’s famous flagship, went down in a storm off the Channel Islands in 1744, taking more than 1,000 soldiers to their deaths.
Along with a bronze cannon collection, some believe the ship was carrying a large quantity of gold coins from Lisbon to Britain, which would now be worth a reported £500m.
According to reports, the wreck is set to be handed over to the Maritime Heritage Foundation, which is expected to employ Odyssey Marine Exploration to carry out its recovery.
The American company found the ship four years ago.
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: “Efforts to protect key parts of British Naval history such as the wreck of HMS Victory 1744 are very welcome and we hope to make an announcement shortly.”
The guns and other artefacts will be displayed in British museums, while Odyssey is likely to receive the bulk of any treasure under the laws of salvage.
Public interest in the Victory’s recovery, driven by the legend of its purported cargo, could match that seen for the raising of the Mary Rose in 1982 which involved a £4m operation to safeguard the 16th century remains.
The Maritime Heritage Foundation was set up by Lord Lingfield, the Tory peer formerly known as Sir Robert Balchin, who is a relative of Admiral Sir John Balchin who was on board the Victory when it sank, although he stressed he would not profit personally from the ship’s cargo.
Lord Lingfield told The Sunday Times: “The foundation seeks to prevent damage to this historically important site and maximise its archaeological, scientific and educational value.