Article 3


Issue 30 : October 2003


Gifford & Partners has been named as the archaeological consultant for the salvage of the HMS Sussex. The warship sunk with its cargo of coins in the Mediterranean in the 17th century.

The project has attracted controversy because artefacts will be sold off and the proceeds split between the British government and the US salvage company. Odyssey Marine Exploration say that ‘value estimates for the cargo range from several hundred million to a billion dollars or more.’

An Early Day Motion signed by over 60 MPs condemned the ‘treasure hunting’ and the CBA, Rescue and the IFA have questioned whether an archaeological excavation is even feasible at the extreme depth of the Sussex.

Rescue webpage:
Press release :
CBA Details:
Gifford & Partners website :

Background to Story :

The largest treasure trove in marine history could soon emerge from Mediterranean waters, thanks to an unprecedented public-private partnership.

Focusing on a 17th-century British warship, the treasure hunt has been launched by a 20-year-old deal between Britain and U.S. salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration.

HMS Sussex, an 80-gun ship, was said to be on a secret mission taking gold and silver coins to the Duke of Savoy Victor Amadeus II, a shaky ally in Britain's Nine Years' War against France.

But King William III's huge bribe — a million pounds sterling, according to historical records — never reached the Duke. On Feb. 19, 1694, a violent storm hit the flotilla near the Strait of Gibraltar. The Sussex sank and its 500 crew drowned.
With the approval of the British government — under international law the 154-foot (47-meter) warship and its cargo is considered to be the property of its home country — Odyssey first traced the wreck in a series of expeditions between 1998 and 2001.

The company used side scan sonar, bathymetric surveys to measure water depth, and underwater robots to locate 418 potential targets, which included Roman and Phoenician wrecks over 2,000 years old.

"Out of all these targets, only one site, nearly 3000 feet deep, contained cannon — and it was very close to the position where the Fleet's secretary reported in 1694 that the Sussex had foundered," Odyssey said in a statement.

The current partnership is a legal breakthrough that could be a new model for locating and salvaging shipwrecks worldwide. Odyssey will cover the initial costs, which could be more than $5 million. However, the company's gamble could pay off.

The contract allows Odyssey to claim 80 per cent of the first $45 million made from selling the coins from the ship. Any proceeds up to $500 million would be split evenly between the company and Britain, which would get 60 percent of any additional proceeds.

The biggest risk in the entire operation, supposing the shipwreck is the Sussex, is existence of the treasure.

"I've worked extensively on Victor Amadeus II, but I've never come across any sign of this type of payment in cash. As far as I know, the English and Dutch subsidies were paid through international bankers, mainly through neutral Geneva. Sending cash was unusual," Geoffrey Symcox of University of California at Los Angeles told Discovery News.

An authority on the history of France during that time, Symcox doesn't believe that the loss of the money made the Duke of Savoy side with France's King Louis XIV, as Odyssey suggested.

"Victor Amadeus did change sides, but not until the summer of 1696, nearly 3 years later. In the meantime, he had continued to fight alongside his allies.

"The sheer size of the sum suggests that there may have been more involved than a bribe. Perhaps the money was meant to finance a big campaign to invade southern France, liberate Nice and raise the Huguenots of Languedoc in revolt — a big blow that might have finished the war," he said.