odyssey marine exploration, hms Victory
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
A picture of the rudder of HMS Victory, is shown at a press conference in London, Monday,
Feb. 2, 2009.

18th-Century British Naval Ship Found; May Contain Treasure Worth Millions

February 02, 2009 01:28 PM
by Isabel Cowles
Odyssey Marine Exploration, a Florida-based shipwreck exploration company, has announced the discovery of the HMS Victory, a British naval vessel that sank in 1744.

HMS Victory Discovered

Odyssey Marine Exploration, which specializes in deep-sea shipwreck exploration, announced today that it has discovered the sunken HMS Victory, the flagship of Admiral John Balchin that disappeared during a storm on its way home from Portugal in 1744.

The HMS Victory was one of the most technically advanced naval vessels of the era. Previously, historians believed the British vessel sank off the island of Alderney near a group of rocks called the Casquets, a notorious trap for sailing ships, according to Agence France-Presse.

The HMS Victory was actually found nearly 50 miles away from the Casquets. “Having discovered it in deep water far from where history says it was lost has served to exonerate Admiral Balchin and his officers from the accusation of having let the ship run aground … due to faulty navigation,” Greg Stemm, Odyssey’s chief executive officer said in a press release.

In addition to solving an “age-old mystery,” Stemm and his team may have uncovered a lost treasure. According to the BBC, the HMS Victory carried more than 100 brass cannons and some 100,000 gold coins, which together are potentially worth hundreds of millions of British pounds.

Odyssey, a Florida-based company, may be unable to claim that fortune, however, should they find it. The vessel was discovered in international waters, but because of its military standing, it officially belongs to the British government. As a result, Odyssey must seek permission for further investigation. Odyssey and the British government are hoping to collaborate on the project, although the company has not yet disclosed the precise location of the wreck.

Background: Odyssey vs. Spain

In May 2007 Odyssey made a similar shipwreck discovery in the Atlantic Ocean, uncovering some 500,000 silver coins worth $500 million. Spain identified the ship as the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes y las Animas, which sank off Portugal in 1804.

Shortly thereafter, Spain filed a formal complaint with a U.S. federal court in Miami to recover the boat and its contents on the premise that warships remain the property of their flag country. A lawsuit on the case is still pending.

Reference: Shipwrecks and maritime law

Related Topic: Sunken British warship found in 2008

Last summer, another great mystery in British naval history was solved when two shipwreck hunters discovered the HMS Ontario, a warship that sank during a blinding snowstorm on Halloween night 1780.

Prior to the discovery, other ships were mistakenly identified as the HMS Ontario. The remains were found nearly intact, complete with glass in the windows.

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