As a rule, the U.S. owns shipwrecks in state waters, except in cases where states can argue that the ship is "abandoned" and "embedded" in the state's submerged land. Libert's dilemma? Once he offers up the location, Michigan may declare the wreck embedded in state land, declare ownership and open the site to exploration by people other than Libert.
Libert sought to limit Michigan's interference with his find by asking a federal district court to "arrest" the wreck, which would establish U.S. jurisdiction over it. But Michigan wants to gain control and has taken Libert to court over the wreck's location.
An appeals court recently overturned a district court decision directing Libert to disclose the Griffon's location, which grants him more time to explore the wreck without Michigan's involvement. But once Libert marks the spot, Michigan and the federal government will have to decide who owns the find.
Now Libert is trying to authenticate the find as the actual Griffon. Earlier this month, he handed over a sliver of wood for testing.
And he enlisted Scott Demel of Chicago's Field Museum to visit the wreck. His first take is that the Griffon has been found.
"I haven't seen anything to disprove that it's not the Griffon," said Demel. "The cannons should have a stamp from the King of France. So that would be the sort of tag."
The Griffon was not carrying a huge treasure. The cold Michigan waters are believed to have kept the ship in good condition, but the furs it was carrying have long ago been washed away. Still, its value is immeasurable to museums and scientists.
Said Demel, "It's a huge find, and if it really turns out to be the Griffon, it's a significant piece for all the Great Lakes and North America, and even for France."
And for Libert, a lifelong mystery hunter … that's enough.
"It's not a treasure ship unless you consider history a treasure, which I do," he said.