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Salvage company claims to have found a record -

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Salvage company claims to have found a record treasure haul

The World Today - Friday, 30 January , 2009 12:38:00

Reporter: Timothy McDonald

ELIZABETH JACKSON: There's no Spanish doubloons or pirates, and X doesn't mark the spot but
treasure hunting is a thriving business and an American salvage company is now claiming a record
haul.

The company says it's found a shipwreck from World War Two that's carrying billions of dollars
worth of treasure. They say it's a matter of finders keepers but legal experts say it's unlikely to
be that simple.

Timothy McDonald reports.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Deep beneath the waves lies a secret stash that would make any treasure hunter
drool with anticipation. If Sub Sea Research is correct, there are 70 tonnes of platinum, 10 tonnes
of gold and about one-and-a-half tonnes of industrial diamonds and gemstones all stuffed into a
single shipwreck.

At today's market prices the ship could contain between six and $11-billion dollars worth of
treasure.

The company's founder Greg Brooks explains how it got there.

GREG BROOKS: It was basically a payment being sent for the Lend-Lease program that the United
States had developed to help their allies in Europe so it was a large payment. It was just left
there and we happened to take the initiative and take the expense upon ourself to go out and look
for it.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Sub Sea Researchers dub the wreck the Blue Baron but of course, that is not its
real name. Various reports have appeared in the media about where the ship came to grief.

Britain's Sunday Telegraph claims it was sunk off the coast of Guyana while the BBC says it sank
near New England off the north-east coast of the US. Either way, with so much at stake the salvage
company has no intention of giving away its exact coordinates.

Forrest Booth is a lawyer at Severson and Werson in San Francisco and an expert in salvage law. He
says salvage is a risky and expensive business because it depends on the latest technology.

FORREST BOOTH: The first development was basically magnatometers that were able to detect metal
objects and they very crude and then there was a scanning sideband sonar came along and that was
much better. And now there is some technology which is a spinoff of some efforts the US Navy has
made to determine the location of mines and torpedos and things like that on the sea bed and that's
extremely sophisticated and that can pick out individual coins buried in the mud and stuff like
that. So it's really a technology driven business - hugely expensive technology I might add.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: And once you've found the treasure, then you have to figure out how to keep it.
Sub Sea Research says it's doing everything by the book and it hopes to keep up to 90 per cent of
the treasure for itself.

But Forrest Booth says the original owners may have a claim on the ship.

FORREST BOOTH: If the location of the wreck is unknown or the depths of the water is so deep such
that recovery was not possible until the newest technology came along, the courts have been
receptive to the idea that there was not an abandonment.

Now the salvor will still get a reward for his efforts of bringing the cargo up but he doesn't get
100 per cent usually. Now if he can prove that it's been abandoned and that is a whole other story
and then he may get 100 per cent.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: If the ship was insured, that could add another layer of complexity because the
original title then passes onto the insurer and in this particular case, governments are also
involved.

It's claimed the treasure was en route from Europe to the US as payment for war materials. As
Forrest Booth explains, it's extremely unlikely that a government would relinquish the treasure.

FORREST BOOTH: Well that adds another wrinkle because governments basically never lose title to
their own property. There's been a lot of litigation about fighter planes from World War Two that
have been discovered, I think one frozen in the ice in Greenland and various other, one was fished
out of a lake near Seattle Washington.

And the Government always wins those cases, the US Government. And I believe the British Government
as well has won some cases like that where they say that once it's their property, it's always
their property.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Then again the wreck could be in international waters and if it's a payment from
one government to another then there may be questions about when the title actually transfers.
Either way there will almost certainly be a legal battle over the treasure.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Timothy McDonald with that report.