THE BAHAMAS Maritime Museum was officially opened on Saturday, August 6 with a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony held at Port Lucaya Marketplace. Keynote speaker for the event was Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Hon. Philip Davis, and giving remarks on behalf of the Minister for Grand Bahama was Minister of Health and Wellness, the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville. Shown from left are: Minister Darville; Prime Minister Davis and Gigi and Carl Allen, owners of Allen Exploration.
Photo: Andrew Miller/BIS
By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The curator of the new Bahamas Maritime Museum says the government - through the Antiquities Monuments & Museums Corporation (AMMC) - have their portion of Spanish treasure found off the coast of Grand Bahama.
Dr Michael Pateman, who is also a former senior archaeologist at the AMMC, told Tribune Business - outside of the ribbon cutting ceremony and opening of the BMM in Grand Bahama on Saurday - that the government supervises every dive undertaken for the sunken Spanish Galleon, the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, inclusive of work by divers from the Royal Bahama Defence Force and representatives from the AMMC working in the BMM laboratory. “The government’s share is in Nassau,” he added.
The value of the government’s share or what was in the BMM is still apparently undetermined because the team at the BMM has had a chance to make full dollar value assessments of their find.
But thus far, in the BMM they have gold rope chains, pendants with precious stones in them, gold coins, silver coins, solid silver bars, silver plates and jars and other miscellaneous items including a solid gold necklace with a pendant of Jesus Christ on the Cross and other non-precious items.
“There are other items not on display because we didn’t want to show too much,” Dr Pateman added.
This newspaper has repeatedly reached out to the current chairperson and immediate past chairpersons of the AMMC and none have been able to give a definite answer on what the AMMC has in their possession from this treasure hunting exercise undertaken by Allen Exploration.
Dr Pateman said: “So, every year we do an evaluation of what was found and we don’t assign dollar values to it, we assign what’s called measured points. So, objects get points and it’s a sort of valuation system and then the government gets 25 percent and Allen Exploration gets 75 percent.”
A key point of contention with this 75/25 split for Allen Exploration - the firm conducting the salvage of the Maravillas - is that a number of government ministers has indicated that they want more from the arrangement and in fact want the majority of the split. This is something Allen Exploration is vehemently against because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spends in equipment and manpower to salvage the wreck of the Maravillas that the government puts little to nothing into.
The government of The Bahamas granted the licence to Allen Exploration in 2020 under the Dr Hubert Minnis Free National Movement administration and the license was renewed by the incoming Philip Davis administration and both men were on hand at Saturday’s ribbon cutting ceremony and opening of the BMM.
The team at the BMM says it is doing more than just salvaging the wreckage of the Maravillas, but they are also finding stolen and missing pieces taken from the wreckage from the 1970s and bringing them back to The Bahamas for display.
Dr Pateman said: “I want to mention that one of the key things about the Allens is they’ve actually purchased collections that were owned by people who did this kind of work in the 1970s and they brought them back and all of those kinds of stuff are on display in the museum.
“One of our key plans is to actually develop a museum in Nassau. So, to make this sort of work more accessible to the Bahamian people and to the tourists who come here.”
Gigi Allen, wife of Allen Exploration’s principal, Carl Allen, who was unavailable for comment after the ceremony, added: “The museum has done a phenomenal job of displaying what has come about. It’s a beautiful display that Dr Pateman has worked very diligently on.
“It’s important for all ages to understand just what’s involved with this cultural heritage. It’s amazing and for the children to learn and see what’s possible and the young people are learning the science behind all of this. It is truly amazing.”
The BMM is not just a showcase for the sunken Spanish treasure or any particular treasure find, it is a museum, laboratory and library, stocked with books about the maritime industry in addition to relative computer software and equipment for students studying maritime archaeology or other maritime related work.
But nothing is more pressing and up to the moment as finding the artefacts of the the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, which, due to time, may be scattered miles away from the allotted salvage site of Allen Exploration. This has not deterred the Allens or Dr Pateman from searching for the artefacts or other valuable wreckage in their immediate area.
Dr Pateman said: “So, there are 18 other shipwrecks we have found. Now one of the key things is that not all shipwrecks are treasure wrecks and so forth.
“In The Bahamas, we have reefs everywhere. Since Europeans have started coming through here, they’ve wrecked on the reefs. So we have found other ships. Some of them we’re working on identifying still. We have something we call composite wreck, which means it’s probably mid-18th to 19th Century. We have another ship wreck that we’ve tentatively dated to late 1500’s. But it’s just from the artefacts we’ve seen, so this is a long-term project.”
Along with Spanish galleons shipping plundered wealth from the Western Hemisphere, there is reason to believe there are French, British, Dutch ships of similar vintage in Bahamian waters in addition to American Civil War era ships.
“This can become a rich training ground for Bahamians,” Dr Pateman noted.