By Victoria Ward - The Telegraph
US treasure hunters should be banned from raising the wreck of one of Britain’s greatest warships and taking some of the millions of pounds of gold coins she is believed to contain, leading archaeologists and descendants of the crew demand today.
They said that allowing HMS Victory, predecessor to Nelson’s flagship, to be exploited for commercial gain would be a “flagrant breach” of the military covenant and an “appalling betrayal” of more than 1,000 Royal Navy sailors who died.
The wreck was discovered by the US company Odyssey Marine Exploration in 2008, 264 years after it sank in a storm off the Channel Islands. Experts believe it may contain gold worth hundreds of millions of pounds as well as 100 bronze cannon.
The Ministry of Defence concluded that recovery could go ahead under the auspices of a charity. Lord Lingfield, formerly Sir Robert Balchin , a descendant of Admiral Sir John Balchen , the ship’s commander, founded the Maritime Heritage Foundation for the purpose.
The foundation has submitted its plans to the MoD and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and signed a contract with Odyssey which would give the Florida-based firm 80 per cent of the value of coins and bullion recovered and 50 per cent of the value of cultural artefacts.
The Government is expected to make an announcement soon on whether it will sanction the proposals. No work can go ahead without the approval of Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, but the plans are fraught with controversy.