Odyssey Marine searches will be subject of TV specials

Published May 5, 2012

Although Odyssey Marine Exploration hasn't always been able to capitalize on treasures it pulled from the bottom of the sea, the Tampa outfit is hoping its adventures are more successful on air.

An Emmy Award-winning video production crew will travel aboard Odyssey's ships in June to film the company as it searches three shipwrecks for sunken treasure. The footage will air as three one-hour television shows.

Odyssey's adventures to date have proved good source material for a Hollywood drama: hundreds of millions in gold and silver pulled from the Atlantic Ocean; international political intrigue involving the Kingdom of Spain, the U.S. State Department and a multimillion-dollar painting stolen by the Nazis; and treasure troves with nicknames like "Black Swan."

The company announced the planned TV miniseries that it is filming with JWM Productions, which has produced shows for National Geographic and PBS, during its corporate earnings conference call Friday.

"After the recovery work … you'll have a front-row seat for all of the action, as camera crews are presently aboard and are filming for three one-hour television specials," said Mark Gordon, Odyssey's president and chief operating officer, during the conference call.

The company did not offer further details about the television program.

But Gordon said he expects this year to mark a substantial shift in the company's financial operations because of three salvage projects that will be the subject of the TV shows.

"One of Odyssey's goals is to share the excitement, stories and knowledge we gain from our shipwreck projects with the general public, and television programming is a great way to do that," said Liz Shows, an Odyssey spokeswoman.

On Friday, Odyssey reported a loss of $5.5 million, or 8 cents per share, for the first quarter of this year, compared with a loss of $5.2 million, or 9 cents per share, for the same period a year ago.

The decline in earnings followed Odyssey's biggest loss: the $500 million in gold and silver the company pulled from the bottom of the Atlantic in 2007. Spain claimed rights to that treasure because the vessel, Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, belonged to Spain.

U.S. courts ruled against Odyssey in its claims to the treasure.

The U.S. government had secretly intervened in the case, offering to support Spain's claim to the treasure in exchange for a multimillion-dollar painting that had been stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family that now lives in California.

As a result of the battle with Spain, Odyssey began entering salvage agreements with various countries to find sunken vessels.

The agreements for the three salvage projects this year allow Odyssey to retain as much as 80 percent of the value of water treasures and artifacts the company recovers.

Successful retrieval of the expected treasure from three ships Odyssey will search in June would bring about $150 million into Odyssey's coffers, Gordon said.

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The largest one is the S.S. Gairsoppa, a 412-foot, steel-hulled British cargo steamship sunk in 1941 by a German U-boat 300 miles off the coast of Ireland. The ship was carrying 7 million ounces of silver, worth 600,000 British pounds at the time.

Odyssey also will try to retrieve 600,000 ounces of silver from the sunken S.S. Mantola, sunk in 1917 by a German submarine. The Mantola's silver bullion was valued at 110,000 British pounds.

The third ship, the HMS Victory, a Royal Navy warship equipped with bronze canons, sank in 1744. It was considered the strongest and most technically advanced vessel of its time.

Odyssey already recovered two of the bronze canons in 2008 from the English Channel, confirming the ship's identity. "The huge 42-pounder recovered is the only known example of a gun of this type and size currently in existence on dry land," Odyssey said.

Odyssey has identified as many as 75 bronze canons at the wreckage site.

After Odyssey's "episodic financial results," Gordon said he believes Odyssey now is "about to enter the most potential lucrative recovery season in our history."

Ivan Penn can be reached at or (727) 892-2332.