02.02.2009 08:21

Wreck of HMS Victory 'recovered from Channel'

The shipwrecked predecessor to Lord Nelson's HMS Victory, which is thought to contain millions of pounds' worth of gold, is thought to have been found at the bottom of the English Channel.

The ship, the fourth of six HMS Victories, sunk with its 1,150 sailors in October 1744 around The Casquets, a group of rocks off the Channel Islands. Among other valuable artefacts, it is thought to contain 100,000 gold coins.

After months of secrecy, Odyssey Marine Exploration, a US company, is expected to confirm on Monday that the ship, codenamed "Legend", that it found in the area in May last year is in fact the Victory.

The announcement, at a press conference at Canary Wharf in London, is set to open a row over the contents of the ship, which is thought to be lying in international waters. Because it is a military wreck, the ship is protected by "sovereign immunity" and belongs to the state.

It is thought the company struck a deal with the Government over a $500million (L346million) haul recovered from the wreck of the 17th-century HMS Sussex in the Strait of Gibraltar in 2007.

The move infuriated the Spanish government, which suspected the treasure - 500,000 gold and silver coins - had been taken from Spanish waters without permission.

If the British Government arranges a similar agreement over the Victory, it could be in breach of a UN convention on nautical archaeology, which aims to preserve underwater heritage. Britain will soon be a signatory to the convention and has agreed to abide by it in the meantime.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence was reported to have told a newspaper that the Government would "negotiate" with the company. A spokesman would only say that "no intrusive action may be taken without the express consent of the United Kingdom".

Odyssey has raised at least 16 brass cannons from the wreck appearing to be from the Victory. Experts estimate the ship's 100 guns would now be worth between L10,000 and L20,000. It is also thought to be searching for the ship's gold coins.

Mike Williams, a law lecturer at Wolverhampton University and a member of the Nautical Archaeology Society, said: "If we allow Odyssey to go ahead with this operation, it will cause an uproar."

Odyssey Marine Exploration could not be reached for comment.




Martin Suchý


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