TAMPA, Fla. —
Florida deep-sea explorers who found $500 million in sunken treasure two years ago say they have discovered another prized shipwreck: A legendary British man-of-war that sank in the English Channel 264 years ago.
Odyssey Marine Exploration hasn't found any gold this time, but it's looking for an even bigger jackpot. The company's research indicates the HMS Victory was carrying 4 tons of gold coins that could be worth considerably more than the treasure that Odyssey raised from a sunken Spanish galleon in 2007, co-founder Greg Stemm said ahead of a news conference set for Monday in London.
So far, Odyssey has recovered two brass cannons from the wreck of the Victory and continues to examine and map the debris field, which lies about 330 feet beneath the surface, Stemm said. The company said it is negotiating with the British government over collaborating on the project.
"This is a big one, just because of the history," Stemm said. "Very rarely do you solve an age-old mystery like this."
Odyssey said the 31 brass cannons and other evidence on the wreck allowed definitive identification of the HMS Victory, 175-foot sailing ship that was separated from its fleet during a storm and sank in the English Channel on Oct. 4, 1744, with at least 900 men aboard. The ship was the largest and, with 110 brass cannons, the most heavily armed vessel of its day. It was the inspiration for the HMS Victory famously commanded by Adm. Horatio Nelson decades later.
Odyssey was searching for other valuable shipwrecks in the English Channel when it came across the Victory. Stemm wouldn't say exactly where the ship was found for fear of attracting plunderers, though he said it wasn't close to where it was expected to be.
"We found this more than 50 miles from where anybody would have thought it went down," Stemm said. Federal court records filed by Odyssey in Tampa seeking the exclusive salvage rights said the site is 25 to 40 miles from the English coast, outside of its territorial waters.
A Ministry of Defense spokesman said Sunday the government was aware of Odyssey's claim to have found the Victory.
"Assuming the wreck is indeed that of a British warship, her remains are sovereign immune," he said on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy. "This means that no intrusive action may be taken without the express consent of the United Kingdom."
He would not say whether the government had begun talks with Odyssey over the future of the find.
Newspapers of the day and other historical records analyzed by the company indicated that the Victory sank off the Channel Island of Alderney near Cherbourg, France. A 1991 British postage stamp depicts the Victory crashing on the rocks there. Pieces of the ship had washed up in various places, but its final resting place had remained a mystery.
The belief that the Victory had crashed onto the rocks had marred an otherwise exemplary service record of the ship's commander, Sir John Balchin, and a lighthouse keeper on Alderney was prosecuted for failing to keep the light on. Odyssey believes the discovery exonerates both men.
"As far as the family is concerned, it is an astonishing revelation," said Robert Balchin, a 66-year-old British university administrator and direct descendant of the commander. "It's as if he's sort of come alive again.