Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. has been awarded an exclusive
contract to conduct an archaeological excavation to recover the
remaining cargo from the SS Central America.
The firm announced the decision on March 3, 2014.
The Central America, nicknamed the “Ship of Gold,” sank
approximately 160 miles off of the coast of South Carolina in
September 1857 and was one of the largest documented shipments of gold
ever lost at sea.
Ira Owen Kane, the court-appointed receiver who represents Recovery
Limited Partnership, which has exclusive salvage rights over the
shipwreck, said that proposals were circulated to nine firms with
expertise in the deep-ocean exploration and recovery industry.
In the arrangement, Odyssey will receive 80 percent of recovery
proceeds until a fixed rate — which has not been disclosed — has been
paid. After that, Odyssey will receive 45 percent of the recovery proceeds.
Kane said, “After conducting an exhaustive review of the extensive
amount of historical research available on the shipwreck, our experts
estimate the shipwreck still holds a commercial shipment of gold that
was valued at approximately $93,000 in 1857, as well as a substantial
amount of passenger gold valued in 1857 between $250,000 and $1,280,000.”
The SS Central America shipwreck site was discovered in 1987
by Columbus-America Discovery Group at a depth of approximately 7,200
feet. The shipwreck was conclusively identified as the Central
America a year later and recovery operations began in 1989.
Columbus-America, based in Columbus, Ohio, was led by Tommy
Thompson, Bob Evans and Barry Schatz. The firm led the recovery effort
in the late 1980s, during which more than 1,000 hours of exploration
time was spent on the ocean floor and a large amount of gold was
recovered from a small portion of the 1857 shipwreck.
The shipwreck is noteworthy because the steamer ship, operated by
the United States Mail Steamship Co., was carrying a large consignment
of gold for commercial firms, in the form of both gold ingots and
coins, including more than 5,000 Mint State 1857-S Coronet $20 double eagles.
Beyond the financial loss, 477 passengers, mostly either miners or
businesspersons with interests in the California Gold Rush, perished.
The recovered coins were marketed by the California Gold Marketing
After a lengthy legal battle, in May 2013, a federal court appointed
Kane to supervise recovery operations as the representative of
Recovery Limited Partnership, which was established in 1985 to help
finance the project, and Columbus Exploration LLC.
Kane’s role as receiver is to maximize the recovery of cargo and
cultural heritage items that remain on the Central America
shipwreck site for the benefit of the two firms’ investors and their creditors.
Mark Gordon, Odyssey’s president and chief operating officer, said
that the firm expects the project to move forward in April, since
Odyssey has access to previous records and images that provide a solid
overview of the shipwreck.
Gordon said that the recovery mission of the Central America
is part of a larger plan to recover existing shipwrecks in cases where
legal issues are resolved prior to cargo recovery.
He added: “We intend to target one or more shipwreck cargo
recoveries each year totaling at least $50 million annually, with the
intention of generating a substantial dependable flow of revenue for
many years to come. We plan to pursue other shipwreck projects in
2014, and the Central America project provides a great addition
to our schedule.”
Gordon pointed to the firm’s success with 19th century paddlewheel
shipwrecks, such as the recovery of 51,000 coins and 14,000 artifacts
from the SS Republic a decade ago. Among the coins recovered
from that Civil War-era shipwreck were 2,675 Coronet $20 double eagles
and 1,460 Coronet $10 eagles.
He noted that the SS Central America is less than half of the
depth of the SS Garisoppa, a British vessel sunk by a German
U-boat during World War II. Over the past several years, Odyssey
Marine has recovered more than $80 million in silver from that shipwreck.