Real Life Buried Treasure: Marine Salvage

July 21, 2017
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Scuba diving among reefs, fish zipping to and fro, and finding a lost pirate’s treasure trove, isn’t just an Indiana Jones flick; but real life for some adventurers! It’s blockbuster season at the movies, and the stories of people exploring tombs and awakening ancient mummies have got our minds turning with adventure. We decided we wanted to spend some time talking about those buried, lost, and recovered or salvaged treasures.

When it comes to treasure, the cultural concept of the pirate’s buried treasure is quick to come to mind. While these appear to largely be based on stories with only one case of it ever being truly known, that of pirate William Kidd who buried a portion of his wealth on Long Island. Much more common in actuality is the sinking of treasure in shipwrecks. There is an entire field around it, marine salvage.

As long as man has sailed the seas, ships have sunk whether due to storms, piracy, or any number of causes and their cargo and treasure was lost. Marine salvage is the process in which a ship and/or its cargo are recovered, by toing, refloating, repairing or otherwise recovering the salvage. There are several types of salvage, briefly:  contract salvage, pure salvage, naval salvage, intelligence salvage, as well as the much frowned upon plunder.

Contract salvage is when the owner of the property lost at sea and the salvor agree to a set contract before the operations take place. Pure salvage is when no contract exists, but the salvor begins to rescue property with an implied understanding that following the effort they will be rewarded. Naval salvage is provided by navies with Rescue vessels. Intelligence salvage was done during the Cold War, when rival governments attempted to recover lost submarines to gain an upper hand. Plunder occurs when a salvor discovers and plunders wreckage without the owner of the salvage’s knowledge. Plundering a navy vessel is against international laws.

Some of the most famous/largest marine salvages include:

  • The largest marine salvage on record is the recovering of the German High Seas Fleet during 1922 and 1939, bringing up 45 of the 52 of the sunken warships.
  • 1974 saw the US CIA recovering the Soviet Golf-class submarine K-129
  • In 1985, the Nuestra Senora de Atocha was discovered, along with the $400 million in gold and artifacts.
  • 2007 was the Odyssey Marine Exploration and recovery of roughly $500 million USD in silver and gold coins.