An image from video showing the Allen Exploration treasure hunters at work.
By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Minister of National Security said the company exploring for sunken treasure is welcome to leave The Bahamas if they are not willing to accept the government’s new terms.
Wayne Munroe, speaking to reporters ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting, said that he stands by his earlier comments that any company wishing to do exploration in Bahamian waters should commit to a “process” that would allow for more transparency.
Mr Munroe was responding to comments by Allen Exploration saying that if the government were to flip the existing 75/25 split to one where The Bahamas received the majority share, the company would leave the country as it would not be feasible economically to explore for sunken treasure under that arrangement.
Mr Munroe said: “As a matter of principle, if somebody says something isn’t economic to do, then they won’t do it. The treasure won’t go anywhere and when it becomes economic to be gotten, then somebody will go and get it.”
“But this concept that you can dictate to a sovereign nation is just something that ought not to be countenanced. If you say, for instance, that a service station is unprofitable then you really shouldn’t be in the service station business.
“So, if in fact the truth is then perhaps they need to go somewhere and to look for treasure somewhere where they can do it on their terms.
“Currently they’re doing it in The Bahamas and not anywhere else. So, if that’s the rules the government put in place, you either do business on our terms about our natural resources or you go elsewhere.”
David Concannon, spokesperson for Allen Exploration, responding to Mr Munroe’s comments in an email to the Tribune, said: “The Minister’s most recent comments are unfortunate. It seems like he is perpetually misinformed. We have, in fact, had conversations with the Government since the Minister’s last press briefing. I am not at liberty to discuss the particulars, but I can say they are not consistent with what the Minister of National Security said today.”
Mr Munroe would be the first government official to ever suggest that Allen Exploration should leave the country. “In doing so, was he representing The Bahamas or simply himself?” Mr Concannon asked.
Adding that these comments are not the way to encourage private investment and philanthropy in the country, Mr Concannon added: “Mr Allen is not going to leave The Bahamas. He has invested too much of himself and his fortune in The Bahamas to simply leave the country because of impertinent remarks made by an isolated Government official. What he will do, however, is stop searching for and recovering artifacts from underwater. Maybe this is what the Minister of National Security really wants. Enactment of a system that encourages looting of The Bahamas’ cultural resources, something that creates more bandits to chase but does not serve the interests of the country or its citizens.”
The exploration for the Spanish Galleon, Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, is heating up as there is an estimated $2bn in sunken treasure in Bahamian waters off Walker’s Cay in Grand Bahama. The treasure belongs to the Bahamian people and not Spain under whose flag the ship sailed.
Allen Exploration was granted a licence to search for this treasure under the former Free National Movement administration headed by Dr Hubert Minnis, but the nature of the licence has changed since initially being granted sometime in 2018. The licence was renewed prior to the 2021 general election under the same legislatively mandated terms and the provisions of the Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation (AMMC), but the territory governed by the permit has been significantly reduced.
Allen Exploration still pays the same fees and costs for the licence, including the fees to acquire the licence and the cost of having two Royal Bahamas Defense Force officers on its vessels and one AMMC technician in its conservation facility.