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"X-Ray View" of Odyssey Explorer's Treasure Hunt

Gold coins worth more than a billion Euros lie down on the bottom of the sea as a sunken freight. Whether the sounding and recovering of these treasures is profitable, is nowadays more than ever a question of the right method. Sensational deep sea archeology with a technology like on a mars mission to recover the treasures of "Black Swan" and "Sussex".



The Odyssey Explorer team expects tons of these gold coins to be on board of the British warship Sussex
Picture by Odyssey Marine Exploration

Presumably this ship would have changed the world, if it would ever have reached its intended harbor in the Mediterranean: On February 19th, 1694 the English bark Sussex was on its way with a secret freight of his Majesty William III. across the Straits of Gibraltar to Savoy (today in a great measure a region of France bordering the Mediterranean coast, which enfolds also Europe's highest mountain, the Mont Blanc). On board of the warship under three decks there were 80 ready to fire pieces of artillery, tons of gold and silver in coins and bars, which were particularly meant for the Duke Viktor Amadeus II. As a "Gift of Friendship" for the future war confederate against the sun king Ludwig XIV., William wanted to heckle the French militarily and needed a mercenary army in the South, for which the treasure on board of the Sussex was supposed to be the payment.

In 1694 the British warship Sussex sank in the storm before Gibraltar together with its gold treasure on board

Further 37 war- and dozens of merchant ships accompanied the Sussex on its precarious mission, and the ship had already successfully passed the antagonistic French waters, as it sank on the a-fore of said February 19th shortly after the passage through the Gibraltar bottleneck during a frosty winter storm with 560 men on board. Only two mariners of the Sussex survived, additional 13 ships of the fleet went down.

Worse than the loss of the ships and the crew was for the British crown, that they were not able to win Savoy as an ally without the present of then one million pounds sterling: Before they were able to realize a Plan B, France pre-empted the Britons, had won Savoy for itself and thereby forestalled the English military to gain ground in Europe.

What remains of these astonishing incidents until today, is a lost ship wreck with the presumably biggest gold-and silver freight in its shipping space (even regarding the so called "Black Swan" recovered by Odyssey Marine Explorations team), that ever went down to the bottom of the sea. Between 400 million and four billion Euro the legendary treasure of the Sussex should be worth nowadays, because besides the pure precious metal value the altogether historic coins will be estimated.

On board of the Odyssey Marine Explorer research ship four men are responsible one deep sea robot
Picture by Odyssey Marine Exploration

For more than nine years the Odyssey Explorer team around the US-adventurer and treasure hunter Gregg Stemm has done research in old archives and along the coast of Gibraltar, 400 square miles of sea bed were grazed systematically with highly sensitive sonar robots, countless x-rays were made of the sea beds secreting darkness. Thereby 418 objects up to the size of single Roman amorphous had been analyzed. And now the share holder company probably really found the wreck of the Sussex in 900 meters depth. Beside laborious negotiations, regarding big investors like the US-computer pope Michael Dell, but also England and Spain (on whos coastal boundaries the wreck lies on) which should be made contented, it is imperative to recover the rests of the 17th century war flagship appropriately with the help of historians and scientists. These experts hope for historically significant information concerning the sail-making-techniques and ship's gear of the time and area as well as knowledge about the secret auxiliary-mission of the Sussex.

As the wreck is unreachable for divers, a so far unique form of deep sea archeology has been developed, where robots have to outdare the intense deep sea currents with highly sensitive suckers – ad hoc produced with gripping arms and special paddles – remote-controlled to make the excavation work in the headlight of video cameras. A mission no less exotic than NASAs rover expeditions to Mars, where the tricky part also was to get along without men on site. Each of the swimming Odyssey-Robots has a crew of four men: Beside the pilot and co-pilot an archeologist is the "top dog". And a computer specialist is in charge for the record of all operated maneuvers.

A gold treasure like this one experts expect to be on board of the ship wrack of the Sussex in front of the coast of Gibraltar

Because the recovery will cost millions of investment, the team tries to find out with all means, if the wrecks remnants are truely from the legendary Sussex. So the Odyssey-Team does not only incorporate all detectable documents of the 17th Century, but also (sometimes quite wild) legends around the incident. We interviewed Gregg Stemm: "By dint of computer simulation we have compared the particular place where fleet captain Admiral Wheeler's body should have come ashore in 1694, with the currents before Gibraltar and the position of the wreck. We have found out that the rests of the 18 guns lying scattered around the ship, come from 24-, 6- and 3-pounder cannons that were typical for barks like the Sussex: One of our robots has measured the muzzle of the cannons with an ad hoc purpose-built instrument." Furthermore the robot recovered metal samples from the depth to the former research ship Odyssey Explorer. In its mobile lab they found out that the metal alloys of the cannons do not contain bronze, which rules out a Spanish, but very obviously includes a British ship.

Gregg Stemm: "If it is really the Sussex and we can recover the treasure, a great childhood dream is coming true for me!"


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© A report by Tobias Micke (04-06-06) – Contact