Local Shipwreck Divers React to Court Ruling for Tampa Treasure Hunting Co. | News
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- From old cannons to pewter spoons, Starr Cox gets to see a lot of shipwreck discoveries.
"My primary job is to take care of the artifacts we bring up, catalogue them, and document and conserve them if we're going to keep them," Coxx is the Archaeological Conservator with the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program - or LAMP.
She and the rest of the staff come into contact with rare finds from shipwrecks while diving wrecks off the First Coast.
"Everybody's interested in the stuff. Everybody," Cox said. "It's just cool!"
It's so cool that some people have made a business out of it such as Odyssey Marine Exploration in Tampa. It dives shipwrecks around the world and works with robotic devices in deep waters.
In 2007, Odyssey found literally tons of coins on a Spanish shipwreck off the Portuguese coast and brought the discovery back to Florida. It's reportedly worth more than $500 million. A federal judge's ruling now orders Odyssey to send it all back to Spain this week.
Sam Turner, Director of Archaeology with LAMP, agrees with the ruling.
"I think it's pretty clear it's property of the Spanish government," Turner stated Monday.
He said it goes back to the concept many countries agreed to keep: sovereign immunity.
"That a Spanish vessel would remain a Spanish vessel," Turner explained. "An American vessel would remain an American vessel... property of the sovereign governments."
That's true even if another country discovers the shipwreck hundreds of years later.
Because there are literally hundreds of shipwrecks off the First Coast and because St. Augustine was a Spanish port, there's a possibility Turner and the rest of the LAMP crew could discover a shipwreck from Spain. Turner said if they ever do, they'll notify Spain and work together on the project.
Those at LAMP explain the organization is different from companies such as Odyssey because of what happens to the shipwrecks' artifacts once on land.
"They bring up stuff, they conserve it, and then they sell it," Cox explained.
She and Turner of LAMP believe the artifacts should not be sold - but shared in museum settings in the name of science.
For "science, history and stories. It's all about stories and sharing those stories with the public," Turner added.
LAMP is currently working on a shipwreck off St. Augustine's coast. The staff believes it's a ship which Loyalists boarded to leave Charleston dating from 1782.