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'TREASURE SHARE MUST FAVOUR US': Govt seeks to secure ‘majority’ of riches found by explorers

Attorney General Ryan Pinder

Attorney General Ryan Pinder

By NEIL HARTNELL and YOURI KEMP

Tribune Business Reporters

A multi-million underwater explorer yesterday said it will cease treasure salvaging in Bahamian waters immediately if the Government's plans to take a "majority" share of the financial rewards prove unworkable.

David Concannon, Allen Exploration Group's spokesperson, told Tribune Business via email that its principal, Carl Allen, owner of Walker's Cay in the north Abacos, was "not in the business of turning money into heat by lighting dollar bills on fire".

He was speaking after Ryan Pinder, the attorney general, told the Senate during his contribution to the Budget debate that planned legal reforms will "reverse" the present formula whereby the proceeds from underwater treasure salvaging in Bahamian waters are split 75/25 between the explorer and the Government.

The explorer presently receives the majority three-quarters share, but the Davis administration intends to alter the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Act and its accompanying regulations to "rebalance" this in favour of the Government.

Mr Pinder said: “The Government is seeking to update The Bahamas' legislation relative to underwater cultural heritage by amending the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Act (AMMA) along with amendments to the associated regulations. The proposed amendments specifically relate to licensing requirements, costs, timeframes, geographical areas, and the current government licensing revenue split with respect to salvage licensees.

"Right now, the Government gets 25 percent of the assets that people dive for and dig up. We will reverse that. We will get the majority interest in cultural assets underwater in this country." Mr Pinder's remarks could have been interpreted as suggesting that the present 75/25 developer weighted formula will be reversed so that the Government now receives three-quarters of any financial proceeds.

However, the Attorney General subsequently clarified to Tribune Business that the revised split has yet to be determined by the Davis Cabinet. "Cabinet would decide what the actual split will be, but we anticipate that it will be the majority position," Mr Pinder told this newspaper. "It will be rebalanced in favour of the Government. That goes before the Cabinet. The Cabinet will decide the actual split."

Tribune Business sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, had told this newspaper within the past week that the Davis administration was seeking to reverse or flip the present formula such that the Government (Public Treasury) would receive 75 percent of all underwater exploration proceeds.

However, it was unable to confirm this until Mr Pinder's Senate address yesterday, and it would appear that the new formula is not yet set in stone. The Attorney General's presentation also sheds new light on why Wayne Munroe, minister of national security, would describe existing underwater exploration licence arrangements as "unsatisfactory".

“It’s always unsatisfactory when somebody comes and says this is yours, without any sort of way to audit, confirm or evaluate whether what they’re giving you is what you’re truly entitled to," Mr Munroe said last week. His comments indicate that the issue has already been discussed at the highest levels of government, either at the full Cabinet or a Cabinet committee or sub-committee.

Many Bahamians will likely applaud retaining the bulk of revenues/profits generated from underwater exploration for the public's benefit, given that recovered assets represent this nation's cultural and historical patrimony. The Government, too, is probably also viewing it as an enhanced source of revenue for the Public Treasury at a time of economic and fiscal crisis.

However, the Government taking the majority share of any proceeds raises questions about whether underwater treasure exploration in Bahamian waters will remain commercially viable based on figures and percentages released by Allen Exploration earlier this week. For it would mean that the explorer is taking 100 percent of the risk, and is fully responsible for all investment, but only receives a minority share for all its efforts.

"Artifacts are divided only after an inventory is provided and agreed upon, and independent appraisal is performed. The Bahamas receives 25 percent of the gross value of all of the agreed upon artifacts," Allen Exploration said then. “The remainder goes to the licence holder, who is responsible for paying 100 percent of the costs incurred to search for, recover, conserve, store, secure and curate the artifacts.

“The license holder’s final share of 75 percent of the gross value quickly becomes five or 10 percent after these expenses are applied and deducted. Despite what some people may wish to believe, finding artifacts underwater is not a lucrative business. It is more like owning a boat, which has been accurately described as 'a hole in the water that you throw money into'.” If the Government takes the majority gross value share, that 5-10 percent will likely be eliminated.

Allen Exploration's Mr Concannon, responding to concerns that the Government may alter the formula so it receives the 75 percent share, told Tribune Business: “Anybody suggesting that the Government should take a 75 percent share of the gross does not understand what it takes to find, recover and conserve the artifacts sitting in front of them.”

"If a 75/25 split is the new law, Allen Exploration will stop searching for anything underwater. Period. Mr Allen is not in the business of turning money into heat by lighting dollar bills on fire.” Mr Concannon said that while there had been "general discussions" with the Government on the split, there had been no mention of a total flip.

"We would be happy to have a full and frank conversation with the Government about the economics of finding, recovering and conserving artifacts from underwater. We have had some general discussions about the share percentages shifting, but not in detail, and nobody has ever said anything about reversing the split to 75/25," he added.

"Searching for - and recovering - artifacts underwater costs tens of thousands of dollars every single day. The Government knows this because we have shared those specific figures with members of the Government.”

No dollar value has been assigned to what Allen Exploration has recovered already from the Nuestra Senora de la Maravillas, the sunken Spanish treasure galleon that some have described as “the most valuable shipwreck in the Western Hemisphere”. Mr Concannon said: "Value is assigned based on a point system agreed upon by the parties."

While it has been reported that Allen Exploration has found items such as silver and gold coins, and an emerald-encrusted broach along with an 11-foot long gold chain, Mr Concannon said any value assigned to finds such as this would more often than not be exaggerated by other explorers looking to bait investors into the process. “Allen Exploration does not have outside investors,” he added.

Tribune Business understands that Allen Exploration's licence, first issued by the Minnis administration, has already been renewed on its existing terms, so it is unclear how any legislative changes will impact its activities until the renewal comes around again.

However, several sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that the Government's plans to take a majority share of underwater exploration proceeds would undermine efforts to properly licence and regulate such activities.

"It sends it underground again," one added. Another said: "That is not going to work. It will drive everything underground and what you'll be attracting is the true pirates. The real issue about this is self-governance. Florida gives people licences and permits, and it's the same 75/25 split [in favour of the developer]. They have strict reporting requirements. This is only going to attract the baddies. The issue is regulation."

The Bahamas, and successive administrations, have long struggled to get to grips with underwater exploration and treasure salvaging within this nation’s territorial waters - hence the long-standing moratoriums on new licences.

Lacking the necessary expertise and resources to conduct proper oversight, together with the required regulatory regime, The Bahamas has allowed many of these sites to be pillaged and ransacked by unauthorized foreign salvors. This has resulted in many Bahamian artifacts appearing at overseas auctions and sales without this nation receiving a cent in benefits for them.

But, while underwater exploration did not merit much mention in the two major political parties’ election manifestos, the sector holds much-needed economic and fiscal potential for The Bahamas should it get it right at a time when the country needs every cent it can get post-COVID-19.

One industry source, asked about the industry’s potential value to The Bahamas, simply responded: “Billions”. They added: “The second and third most valuable wrecks in the entire western hemisphere are located off Grand Bahama.

“It would be an entire industry. It has the ability to effectively put Freeport back on the map. You’re talking about billions in artifacts, and I mean billions. You’ve got from conservation of artifacts to research to study to inventory. The question is where is the transparency and the accountability.”

Another added: “People have been coming into our waters for decades and pilfering this. They’re coming in, taking it and putting it on the US market. Bahamian officials have shared how things are being sold in the US that are found in Bahamian waters. The last [Christie] administration put a moratorium on this to try and fix it.”

Comments

mandela 1 week, 3 days ago

If this Mr. Allen exploration crew wants to go because they want the lion's share from what they find in our waters then let him and others like him carry their A$$ and leave our treasures alone, exactly where they are. In our waters.

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ThisIsOurs 1 week, 2 days ago

That's ludicrous. I doubt any govt has anywhere by law receives majority share of a salvage haul.

I wish ministers would let the experts speak to these matters and cite actual research they've done to come up with their conclusions. Go and find out what govts are fairly entitled to across the world for findings/salvage.

The minister can state their position and commission the study. The researchers go off then come back and report their independent findings. The minister can then do with it what they wish.

We need to grow up in politics if we want to move forward. We have to stop this raping and plundering of everyone who makes money in our country including Bahamians. As soon as the govt sees success they want jump in, after doing nothing to help, and get the lions share.

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mandela 1 week, 3 days ago

If this Mr. Allen exploration crew wants to go because they want the lion's share from what they find in our waters then let him and others like him carry their A$$ and leave our treasures alone, exactly where they are. In our waters. Treasure Share Must Favor US.

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The_Oracle 1 week, 3 days ago

75% of nothing is nothing. Perhaps Davis and Pinder should go sit on those vessels, rocking and rolling while the Bahamians working the wrecks put in their best efforts. They'd be puking nd begging to get to shore in 15 min. Sad the way those who cannot, do not want those who can, to do so. BTW, I believe the treasures actually belonged to the Spanish..........

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SP 1 week, 3 days ago

This whole thing is redundant. The Bahamas should simply adopt first world best practices and anyone that doesn't want to comply can carry their asses somewhere else!!

People that think we need to always reinvent the wheel are holding our country back.

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realfreethinker 1 week, 3 days ago

That treasure does not technically belong to the Bahamas. It just happen to wreck here. That's you dropping $100 in your friend's house and they find it and tell you they are keeping $75 because it was found in their house.

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GodSpeed 1 week, 3 days ago

If it's in the territory of the Bahamas it belongs to us now.

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ThisIsOurs 1 week, 2 days ago

Not sure if that's correct. I've been looking for a definitive answer on who owns what and what the site country is entitled to, I have seen recent changes to laws that indicate that a country never abandons its vessels even if they're not actively searching for them. Thus if it's a Spsnish galleon Spain could claim it. Whether that's the most recent interpretation of the law I dont know. One thing I do know, its ludicrous for the govt to say they want majority share

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Dawes 1 week, 3 days ago

Why not make it easy and say Govt gets 75% after costs have been taken out. That way all make money, and all costs paid. Otherwise let Govt pay for the exploration and then we can keep 100% . Of course that's as long as we find something. If we don't then we are millions out of pocket and will wish we had kept the formula at 25% for Govt.

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Baha10 1 week, 3 days ago

Not good “optics” when someone gets a Licence in compliance with the Law and then once “Treasure” Site is identified after considerable research … followed by actual “Treasure” recovered after considerable additional risk and expense … we seek to change the terms of the agreed deal.

I suppose the only way this makes sense is if we are going to take all the information shared in confidence with the Government over the years and now as a Country enter the “Treasure” business as the “exclusive” Salvager … again, not good “optics”, but at least consistent with our Piratical History!

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The_Oracle 1 week, 3 days ago

So with all the back and forth that has raised its head over the decades re treasure hunting, to have the former administration "approve" an effort to hunt and recover, begs the question, If the treasury gets 25%, which former minister might be getting a personal cut? Treasury or treasure, we know they cannot help themselves ( or do so as soon as in office)

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moncurcool 1 week, 3 days ago

So the government wants to put nothing into the exploration, but wants to takes the majority financial share of what is found? Typical government. Just want to do nothing, and take from people who are doing something.

What business person would pay all the cost to recover "treasure" and then gladly give the lion's share of the profit to someone who did nothing?

This is a shake down. Just operating like the mafia. Highway robbery. But then again this is just how the government operates with just taxing the hell out of the Bahamian society anyway, and boasting about how much VAT they are getting.

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tribanon 1 week, 3 days ago

Doesn't this doofus AG have many much more important things he should be doing for the people?

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GodSpeed 1 week, 3 days ago

"A multi-million underwater explorer yesterday said it will cease treasure salvaging in Bahamian waters immediately if the Government's plans to take a "majority" share of the financial rewards prove unworkable."

Give them enough of a reward but really a large portion of the riches should go into a sovereign wealth fund. If the treasure hunters are angry and refuse the deal then let the hidden treasure stay hidden, who cares.

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Believer1 1 week, 2 days ago

We have a “Sovereign Wealth Fund?” That sounds nice 😊 Why not use the precedent already in place for those drilling for oil and gas in The Bahamas. Isn’t that the same principle?

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Engineer 1 week, 2 days ago

What are the term a of the agreement between Allen Exploration and The Bahamas Government? That should be the guide. laws of contract should and must prevale.

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Baha10 1 week, 2 days ago

Classic “bait and switch” … award a Contract … once Location revealed … yank the Contract … deflect by blaming prior Administration … far more cost effective approach to Treasure Hunting than incurring years of manpower in historical research followed by sourcing and mobilizing specialized equipment.

Blackbeard would be truly proud of his legacy!

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tribanon 1 week, 2 days ago

Short Fatso Davis is no doubt now thinking about enrolling in a scuba diving class. LOL

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ThisIsOurs 1 week, 2 days ago

I suspect this is why Minnis moved Antiquities to his ministry. Minnis actions appear to be the worst kind of unethical piratism. Watch him, anytime he smelled big money anywhere he executed some really weird moves to transfer control of the initiative to his office where he had complete control. He repeated the pattern over and over again. I often thought that this was the origination of the completely ill thought out DRA an organization with sole purpose to control potential billions in donor funds, preparedness be damned. Because the way they went about organizing it made no sense, no location, no staff, literally no idea of needs or budget requirements, just enacted. Donors dont like shiftiness

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