Ships carrying gold, silver, and treasures decades, even hundreds of years ago, unfortunately sunk in the deep sea are always attractive items for shipwreck hunting companies. The world’s main ocean exploration company is in dispute over the amount of silver recovered from the Tilawa shipwreck…
The ship is full of silver
On November 20, 1942, the Tilawa ship set anchor, carrying cargo and passengers from Bombay (India) to South Africa. Just before that, ships of British Indian Shipping Lines used to follow that route once every two weeks, but when war broke out, ships were often delayed by a month or more.
Before anchoring, people were crowded at the port, so the police had to stretch people to see off. The ship was crammed with nearly 1,000 passengers, many of whom spent weeks waiting to be loaded into the bottom compartment, including 2,391 silver bars for the mint in Pretoria – to make coins and medals. medals and insignia for the whole of Africa, from the Belgian Congo to Ethiopia.
Tilawa was attacked by Japanese submarine I-29 on the second night of the voyage. Hit by two torpedoes, the ship sank after a few minutes. Before sinking, the ship was able to send an SOS signal. A few days later, the Birmingham rescue ship was sent by the UK and brought back to Bombay 673 passengers with the Tilawa fleet. 281 people were killed, after which they, along with their cargo, sank into the sea of oblivion.
Dispute after 70 years
In March 2012, Ross Hyett, 59 years old, British, registered Argentum Exploration with the sole goal of finding and storing the silver in the Tilawa ship, which according to calculations, over 70 years, the value has reached up to. 32 million pounds. 18 months later, the airline found the wreck: debris scattered in the northwest of the Maldives archipelago at a depth of about 3,500 meters. It took 2 years to prepare, and the special charter company Seabed Worker of Swire (Norway), in January 2017, the salvage work began.
Hyett’s men were concerned that there were many competitors, so they tried to act very carefully. Every four weeks, the Seabed Worker has to return to the port in Salalah in Southern Oman to change shifts. In order to keep absolute secrecy, the salvage ship has a rest station at the edge of Oman’s waters, where the ship “drops” on the seabed the pieces of silver recovered in the wire nets, then the cargo ship enters the harbor. to welcome a new crew. For 6 months, the Seabed Worker worked at the place where the Tilawa shipwrecked and by June 2017 had recovered 2,364 silver bars.
The shortest route connecting the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea passes through the Suez Canal. The problem was that this canal passed through Egypt, which Hyett and his firm wanted to avoid, because in 1942 the silver from the Tilawa could have been spent on the Egyptian mint, if they remembered that it would be difficult. … So we have to take a detour through Africa. On the way, the Seabed Worker stopped at the Seychelles Islands and the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa), both times doing the same as in Oman: dropping silver on the seabed in international waters. On September 3, 2017, silver hidden on the shores of South Africa was transferred to the Pacific Askari, another ship chartered by the contractor of Argentum Exploration. A month after the ship arrived at Southampton, England, they stored the silver in the Customs vault and declared it to be a relic from the shipwreck.
Although it was a top secret, the US company Odyssey Marine Exploration still sniffed it. Odyssey may have been interested in Tilawa since 2012, when it recovered silver from the British Indian shipping company Gairsoppa, which was also sunk in World War II. Unlike Hyett, Odyssey did not intend to flee. previous owners of this item. Because in 1942, silver was owned by South Africa, so the company intended to borrow the support of the Republic of South Africa, but it was not easy. Odyssey delegates took a year to establish relations with the South African authorities, convincing them to make their intentions public, and it was not until September 2017 that an Odyssey founder initiated a dialogue.
He hinted that there was suspicious activity in the shipwreck and advised not to delay, or the treasure would fall into the hands of the “pirates” Hyett and Argentum Exploration. In February 2018, the two sides reached an agreement: the South African government received only 15% of the silver, the rest was from Odyssey. However, at that time Hyett was able to salvage Tilawa and transfer the silver to England. But in the agreement Odyssey foresees that option, the company promises to accept responsibility for delaying the court and care how the Republic of South Africa gets its share even if the treasure falls into someone else’s hands. .
From that moment, the initiative shifted from the treasure hunt to the lawyers. In September 2018, the South African Government declared the silver from Tilawa to be its property. After many exchanges, Hyett’s company agreed to release if the Republic of South Africa would compensate for the salvage from the seabed in accordance with the British convention on trade by sea. Denied, Hyett took to court.
The fate of the treasury compressed aboard the Tilawa
In December 2020, the British Maritime Court heard the controversy surrounding Tilawa. Argentum Exploration’s main argument is that South Africa planned to use silver for commercial purposes, and therefore should be treated as a commodity, while the cargo on the British shipwreck was in fact intended. belongs to the person who found it. South African lawyers oppose this view because silver is used to mint money, it is not a commercial but a national duty.
To find out the truth, Chief Justice Nigel Teare had to go to the long-lost British Colonial Department archives, to find documents indicating that the Indian silver was probably destined for the Egyptian mint. Since the purpose of such foreign contracts was probably profitable, the court ruled that the silver in the Tilawa, which sank in 1942, had a commercial function. Under British law of national immunity, foreign countries are not subject to British courts, but there is an exception that applies to cargo ships belonging to another country if the whole ship , the whole cargo in the vessel at the time the basis for filing the claim appeared was for commercial purposes.
In Argentum Exploration’s view, Tilawa’s function has not changed since 1942, when it was planned for commercial use. South Africa’s lawyers have a different opinion, they claim to see the basis for suing only appeared in 2017, when the above shipment had no purpose, neither commercial nor national. In that case, the Republic of South Africa is not subject to British law, and does not have to compensate Argentum Exploration for the work done.
The Court considers that the function of the number of rows cannot be changed without the decision of the South African government. If the decision takes effect before mid-2017, when Argentum Exploration recovers silver from the seabed and creates a basis for filing a lawsuit. But the intensive negotiations between the South African government and the Odyssey delegate began later, that is, at that time there was no decision on Tilawa and its function was still a commercial one. The law is therefore on the side of Argentum Exploration.
But Hyett’s victory did not last long. In January 2021, the court re-trial, Chief Justice Nigel Teare confessed that the argument of the Republic of South Africa had no basis and he allowed them to plead. So far, the fate of the silver block has not been decided as the court of appeal is currently reviewing the case file.
World of treasure hunters
Disputing silver on the Tilawa is not the first time that the Odyssey treasure hunting team has been involved. It was they who recovered the gold from the shipwreck Central America in 1857, in which the engineer Tommy Thompson, who guessed the secret was not entitled to a dime, is now in prison.
Odyssey was also involved in another case when in 2007 it claimed to have recovered 17 tons of gold and silver from the Spanish ship Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which sank in 1804. Spain seized the research vessel Odyssey used. use and reclaim the treasure. After years of tug-of-war, Odyssey finally had to comply.
Before becoming famous for his involvement in these lawsuits, Ross Hyett was known only by the British press as a car racer, winning the “24 Hours of Le Mans” in France in 1989 and 1990, then standing head of the British Motor Racing Club, which has the Silverstone track. In addition to that hobby, Ross Hyett also works in finance in the world of Paul Marshall, the British investor who founded the largest Marshall Wace hedge fund in the world. More than 50% of the Argentum Exploration registered to search for the Tilawa belongs to Marshall.
Another treasure-searching startup of Hyett is Maritime Archeology Consultans Switzerland (MACS), which recovered the Spanish ship San-Jose carrying billions of dollars worth of treasure that was wrecked in the early 18th century. MACS experts located the shipwreck but then the salvage was stalled by fraud cases.
Tracing the real owner of MACS only found a suspicious chain of offices leading to a place where Trans-Siberian Ltd was registered in the Cayman Islands. Among MACS shareholders are Anthony Clake and a company boss, Oliver Plunkett (leader of Ocean Infinity, which specializes in salvaging shipwrecks), both of whom are longtime friends of Marshall. Trans-Siberian Ltd appeared in 2017 and entered the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370. To get the approval of the Malaysian government, the company agreed to work for free and hoped that if it was successful, it would be rewarded. Conditions seemed so unfavorable that several theories arose: using the name of searching for planes, Ocean Infinity hunting for other things like treasure, or an agreement to have access to map data produced by search teams. Search flight MH 370 previously collected for treasure hunting.
In 2012, the British bank Robert Fraser Group published a profile to invite clients to invest £250,000 in one of the treasure-search firms. Accordingly, if participating, customers will be loaned by the bank 750,000 pounds (to 1 million pounds). If the treasure is found, the amount of money investors get back will be 5 times higher than the invested money; In the event of a failure, the customer still receives a tax-deductible credit of £1 million. The bank was joined by 129 businessmen and celebrities in the UK, including Paul Marshall and Anthony Clake. Also looking for treasure with their money are firms like the US Odyssey Marine Exploration.