By Andy Brockmam - Save Archaeology
Ministers Jeremy Hunt and Philip Hammond are in the firing line as the Ministry of Defence admits Odyssey Marine Exploration is already preparing to cash in on HMS Victory and the remains of over 1000 British sailors without the permission of the Government.
In a major and disturbing development in the growing HMS Victory scandal, the Ministry of Defence has been forced to admit that the flagship of American commercial salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. the Odyssey Explorer, has been actively preparing to recover artefacts from the wreck site of HMS Victory, the flagship of Admiral Sir John Balchen, lost with all hands in October 1744, even before permission has been given by Government Ministers Jeremy Hunt and Philip Hammond to permit the recovery of artefacts from the ship.
What makes the revelation that Odyssey has jumped the gun on the Minister’s decision even more embarrassing for the Cameron Government is the fact that the un-authorised work may have been sanctioned by Sir Robert Balchin, Lord Lingfield, a close associate of Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt and former senior official in the Conservative Party who was ennobled by Prime Minister David Cameron in December 2010.
Lord Lingfield is chair of Odyssey’s ostensible employers, the charity the Maritime Heritage Foundation which he founded in October 2010 specifically to take control of the wreck of HMS Victory.
In January 2012 the MHF became legal owners of the wreck, although their freedom of action is supposedly strictly controlled by a “Deed of Gift” imposed by the Ministry of Defence to protect the public interest of the United Kingdom over what was formerly a sovereign naval vessel and particularly the remains of over one thousand Royal Navy personnel who died in the sinking and for whose welfare the Ministry of Defence retains responsibility.
The news that Odyssey had pre-empted the decision of Ministers came in a letter from Deputy Command Secretary at Navy Command Portsmouth, Mr Simon Routh to Mr Robert Yorke of the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee.
The JNAPC contacted the Ministry of Defence in response to growing rumours in the archaeological community that Odyssey Explorer was on station over the Victory and could be carrying out the unauthorised recovery of material from the site.