By Elias Hazou
CYPRIOT authorities have confiscated the cargo of a Bahamas-flagged ship suspected of illegal treasure hunting, and are questioning its crew.
Acting on a tip, police on Wednesday secured a search and seizure warrant for the vessel, which has been moored at Limassol harbour since December 17.
The ship was active out at sea prior to that date.
Police, assisted by antiquities department and customs officials, boarded the ship and discovered in its hold, which was locked, 57 crates in which several ancient artefacts were being held.
The artefacts were kept suspended in desalinated water, which according to the antiquities department is standard procedure for safe storage.
It’s understood the artefacts were recovered from a shipwreck in waters east of the island.
Authorities are questioning the 13 crew members, but no arrests have been made, as it is not yet clear whether the ship was operating inside the Republic’s area of responsibility. It may have been operating inside Lebanese waters when it recovered the artefacts.
Police are trying to determine whether the ship had a permit to search for antiquities. If not, the crew could be liable for illegal treasure hunting and illegal possession of antiquities.
The vessel is the ‘Odyssey Explorer,’ an offshore supply ship.
Alecos Michaelides, the transport ministry’s permanent secretary, told the Cyprus News Agency that the antiquities found on board the ship date to the 18th century.
He said that the antiquities department had received information on the ship’s activities “some time ago,” and that more recently the foreign ministry was made aware of the vessel’s operations.
The ‘Odyssey Explorer’ is owned by Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., an American company engaged in the salvage of deep-water shipwrecks. Odyssey salvaged the US Civil War-era shipwreck of the SS Republic in 2003 and recovered over 50,000 coins and 14,000 artifacts from the site nearly 1,700 feet deep. Odyssey has several shipwreck projects in various stages of development around the world, including the codenamed Black Swan Project.
According to Wikipedia, on October 16, 2007, Spain seized the vessel, as it sailed out of port from the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. The Odyssey Explorer captain, Sterling Vorus, claimed to have been in international waters, but was forced to dock at Algeciras under what Vorus declared was “threat of deadly force.” Once in port, Vorus was eventually arrested for disobedience after refusing inspection of the vessel without first receiving approval of Odyssey Explorer’s flag state, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.