Tampa's Odyssey Marine: Still searching for profits, but not in shipwreck treasure

Tampa's Odyssey Marine continues to struggle as deep-sea treasure hunting proves to be an increasingly expensive endeavor. DANIEL WALLACE   |   Times
Tampa's Odyssey Marine continues to struggle as deep-sea treasure hunting proves to be an increasingly expensive endeavor. DANIEL WALLACE | Times
Published May 13, 2016

The days of portraying Tampa's Odyssey Marine Exploration as a swashbuckling seeker of deep-sea shipwrecks with cargoes full of gold are fading fast.

The company, long struggling for sustained profitability, has sold off or leveraged much of what it once owned. Now it's scraping by, contracting out its underwater expertise for a Mediterranean commercial survey project, cutting costs and watching its stock fall, despite a recent 1-for-12 reverse stock split.

The company reports its latest quarterly revenues rose to $582,000 from a mere $115,000 in the first quarter of 2015. Odyssey squeezed out earnings of $85,000 in the quarter after suffering a $9.7 million loss a year earlier.

The company's chief business opportunity, a deal to dredge underwater deposits of phosphate in Mexican waters, was recently derailed after Mexico expressed environmental concerns. Odyssey Marine CEO Mark Gordon insists the so-called Don Diego project is not dead but will be restructured to try to meet Mexico's concerns. "We have filed new documents with the Mexican authorities and we have hired additional environmental experts and other advisers to move the project forward," Gordon said. "We can assure you, that Odyssey and its partners remain committed to pursuing the Don Diego phosphate dredging project through ultimate approval."

This is not the Odyssey Marine of old, which routinely announced new deep-sea discoveries of centuries-old ships bearing gold coins and other artifacts. But finding such wrecks and winning the salvaging rights to such cargo from different (and litigious) nations making their own claims to the wrecks has proved difficult and expensive for Odyssey. As losses mounted in recent years, the company shifted its strategy to more conventional underwater searches for natural deposits, while selling off much of its existing inventory of shipwreck treasure to sustain its operations.

Face it. Deep-sea treasure hunting is an expensive pursuit.

As Odyssey shares dropped precipitously below 50 cents per share, the company in February pursued a reverse stock split in which 12 existing shares became one new share, in the process boosting the company's flagging stock price. Shares rose as high as $9 in early April but began falling as Odyssey's financial prospects continued to sour.

Shares on Friday closed at $2.46, down 5 percent. The company has a paltry market value of less than $19 million. The company lost $18.2 million in 2015 and $26.5 million in 2014.

Now Odyssey's chief search for treasure is on dry land, hunting for lenders and investors comfortable with risk and willing to keep the company afloat.

Contact Robert Trigaux at Follow @venturetampabay.