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Explorers haul in deep-sea treasure
worth $500 million

TAMPA, Florida 18/05/07.   Deep-sea explorers said Friday they had salvaged
what could be the richest shipwreck treasure in history, bringing home 17
tons of 400-year-old silver and gold coins worth an estimated $500 million
from an undisclosed site in the Atlantic Ocean.

A jet chartered by Odyssey Marine Exploration, based in Tampa, landed in
the United States recently with hundreds of plastic containers brimming with
coins raised from the ocean floor, said Odyssey's co-chairman Greg Stemm.
The more than 500,000 pieces are expected to fetch an average of $1,000
each from collectors and investors.

"For this colonial era, I think it is unprecedented," said Nick Bruyer, a
rare-coin expert who examined a batch of coins from the wreck. "I don't
know of anything equal or comparable to it."

Citing security concerns, the company declined to release any details about
the ship or the wreck site Friday. Stemm said a formal announcement would
come later, but court records indicate that the coins might have come from a
400-year-old ship found off England.

Because the shipwreck was found in an area where many colonial-era
vessels went down, there is still some uncertainty about its nationality, size
and age, Stemm said, although evidence points to a specific-known
shipwreck. The site is beyond the territorial waters or legal jurisdiction of any
country, he said.

"Rather than a shout of glee, it's more being able to exhale for the first time
in a long time," Stemm said of the haul, by far the biggest in Odyssey's
13-year history.

He would not say whether the loot was taken from the same wreck site near
the English Channel that Odyssey recently petitioned a federal court for
permission to salvage.

In seeking exclusive rights to that site, an Odyssey attorney told a federal
judge last fall that the company had probably found the remains of a
17th-century merchant vessel that sank with valuable cargo aboard, about
40 miles, or 65 kilometers, off the southwestern tip of England. A judge
signed an order granting those rights last month.

In keeping with the secretive nature of the project, dubbed "Black Swan,"
Odyssey is also not talking yet about the types, denominations or country of
origin of the coins.

Bruyer said he observed a wide range of varieties and dates of likely
uncirculated currency in much better condition than artifacts yielded by
most shipwrecks of a similar age.

The Black Swan coins - mostly silver pieces - will probably fetch several
hundred dollars to several thousand dollars each, with some possibly
commanding much more, he said. Value is determined by rarity, condition
and the story behind them.

Controlled release of the coins into the market, along with their expected
high value to collectors, will probably keep prices at a premium, he said.

The richest-ever haul from a shipwreck was yielded by the Spanish galleon
Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which sank in a hurricane off the Florida Keys in
1622. Mel Fisher, the treasure-hunting pioneer, found it in 1985, retrieving a
reported $400 million in coins and other loot.

Regarding its latest find, Odyssey said it would probably return to the same
spot in the Atlantic Ocean to retrieve more coins and artifacts from the
sunken ship.

"We have treated this site with kid gloves, and the archaeological work done
by our team out there is unsurpassed," said Odyssey's chief executive, John
Morris. "We are thoroughly documenting and recording the site, which we
believe will have immense historical significance."

The news is timely for Odyssey, the only publicly traded company of its kind.

The company salvaged more than 50,000 coins and other artifacts from the
wreck of the SS Republic off Savannah, Georgia, in 2003, making millions of
dollars. But Odyssey posted losses in 2005 and 2006 while using its
expensive, state-of-the-art ships and deep-water robotic equipment to hunt
for the next mother lode.

"The outside world now understands that what we do is a real business and
is repeatable and not just a lucky one-shot deal," said Stemm, the company
co-chairman. "I don't know of anybody else who has hit more than one
economically significant shipwreck."

In January, Odyssey won permission from the Spanish government to
resume a suspended search for the wreck of the HMS Sussex, which was
leading a British fleet into the Mediterranean Sea for a war against France in
1694 when it sank in a storm off Gibraltar.

Historians believe the 157-foot, or 48-meter, warship was carrying 9 tons of
gold coins to buy the loyalty of the Duke of Savoy, a potential ally in
southeastern France. Odyssey believes those coins could also fetch more
than $500 million.

But under the terms of a historic agreement, Odyssey will have to share any
finds with the British government. The company will get 80 percent of the
first $45 million and about 50 percent of the proceeds thereafter.