Namibia Takes Over From Namdeb
Seems the Namibian Government has taken over the exploration of the shipwreck uncovered during a Namdeb Diamond Corp. excavation in search of diamonds last month.* After being contacted by the Portuguese Government, Namibian officials have stepped in and are considering this Oranjemund wreck a prime historical site on which they plan to bring in their own archaeologists and technicians to ensure the careful examination and cataloging of all items.
In another arena, the Odyssey Marine vs. Spanish Government case currently making it's way through a Florida court, highlights what can happen when joined parties to shipwreck exploration keep secrets. Odyssey Marine had an agreement with Spain to search for a particular ship, found another wreck site, removed the coins and artifacts, transported them to Gibraltar and flew the back to their home base in Florida, without clarifying the situation to Spain. A year later the Spanish government has done their research and believes they know the origin of the ship. They think it is the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes and have made claim to all contents, as that particular ship was Spanish and would have been sailing under Royal flag.
I don't know a great deal about maritime law, nor am I an expert on the Namibian Heritage laws, under which Namibia has laid claim to the Oranjemund wreck site, but I am wondering; if the 500 year old Namibian shipwreck site turns out to be a Royal Portuguese ship, who retains title to it's contents, which include large numbers of both gold and silver Portuguese and Spanish coins, along with eight cannons, 50 ivory elephant tusks, copper ingots, two Mariner's Astrolabes and many other artifacts?
In the case of the Mercedes a Florida court will decide between Marine Odyssey and the Spanish Government. With the Namibian wreck, it seems there may be better cooperation, at least for the moment, between the four interested parties of Portugal, Namibia, Namdeb and De Beers.
With the large number of significant coins involved, the numismatic community will be watching closely and hoping that these treasured numismatic properties will be handled with care and consideration, both for future researchers and for hopeful sea salvage collectors.
*For more details about the Namibian shipwreck uncovered by Namdeb, check out my archived interview with Lisa Bellavin on Coin Chat Radio!