Chairman of the UK’s Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee, Robert Yorke has replied to an article in the Sunday Times, which the paper ran on May 17, called “Guns and Glory”.
He is critical of Odyssey Marine, the team that was forced away from a joint project with MoD to recover treasure from HMS Sussex off Gibraltar, because of Spanish pressure..
The article had stated that “Odyssey Marine scours the ocean more efficiently and stands to profit more handsomely”, by selling coins and artefacts from the wreck of HMS Victory which sank in 1744. It also posed the question, “Is that really so unfair?”
In his reply Mr Yorke said, “Of course it is unfair. It deprives ours and future generations from seeing the full grandeur of the ship’s 100 bronze cannons and its full collection of artefacts (including any coins that may be found) properly conserved and displayed in one place, such as the Mary Rose Museum.”
His letter explains that this is because the collection will be spread all around the world as Odyssey Marine sells off artefacts to reimburse its costs.
He then questions the fact that that sort of practice is not allowed on land excavations so why should it be allowed underwater ?
He wrote, “Long-term visitor income from a future Victory museum should not be sacrificed for short-term greed and one-off financial gain.”
He also writes that in his opinion, “Just as importantly, the Maritime Heritage Foundation, to which the Ministry of Defence has given the wreck and to which Odyssey Marine is a sub-contractor, is under a duty to work in accordance with the rules of the Annex of the Unesco Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001.”
The Annex, which the UK Government has accepted as its policy for historic wrecks, states that wrecks should not be exploited for commercial gain and artefacts should not be sold off.
Concluding his letter, Mr Yorke wrote, “If the MoD were to allow the Maritime Heritage Foundation and Odyssey Marine to sell off Victory’s artefacts, not only would it be in breach of UK government policy, it would also set a precedent for treasure hunters worldwide to finance the excavation of historic wrecks by selling off their contents.
And we do not want that.”