Today there are not really any businesses out there looking for buried treasure, but there are enterprising companies looking for sunken treasure. There are billions of dollars of sunken treasure out there and there are companies dedicated to finding and salvaging it.

It seems the latest gold fever is below the waves, but one can also go West and see the old boom towns of gold fever of the gold rush era - like the old-timey Wild West town of Virginia City. If one would like to dive ships, then one may want to start with the most easily accessed shipwrecks in the world for divers.


New Technology is Changing The Game

"The ocean is the world's greatest museum"

- Marine Archaeologist Peter Campbell.

The Smithsonian Magazine says that the majority of wrecks have never been found, but that modern advances in technology like scuba diving, computers, and GPS have transformed the hunt and now the race is on to discover the treasures below.

The article has a very long discussion of the complexes of the legalities that are emerging from these treasure hunts.

  • Invisible: What's Left of A Wreck May Be Nigh Invisible to The Naked Eye

To the naked eye for anyone scuba diving beneath the waves, the remanents of the long-lost ships may only look like crusts of coral, decayed and worm-eaten wood, a pile of rocks, and centuries of concretions. But new technology isn't fooled and can reveal the precious lost artifacts.

If one finds a treasure-laden wreck, that doesn't mean one gets to keep it. Instead, it is likely to be the opening salvo in a years-long protracted legal battle.

A country may claim a wreck if they owned it in the first place (like the Spanish with the San Jose wreck) - even if that was 300 years ago.

Ownership can also be claimed if it is in the territorial waters of another country (like Columbia).

  • Warships: Warships Have "Sovereign Immunity"

But this gets more complicated when the ship is a warship or other government ship. If it has this registration, then it can have what's called "sovereign immunity." That's when this category of ships is immune from legal proceedings by another state.

Related: Japan's Truk Lagoon is Home To An Extraordinary Number Of Wartime Wrecks, Still Visible Today

San Jose - The Holy Grail of Shipwrecks

The greatest discovery today is perhaps the San Jose - an old treasure galleon sunken off the coast of Colombia. It was sent to the bottom by the British 300 years ago and today estimates of its wealth range from $1 billion to a staggering $17 billion.

Even though it was discovered years ago, salvage has not yet started as competing interests from the United States, Colombia, and Spain all lay claim to the wreck.

  • Value: Estimated In The Billions
  • Claimants: Colombia, Spain, and The United States

The Debacle of The Odyssey Explorer

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Another very famous case that resulted in a storm of legal filings and even boardings and detentions was in 2007 with the treasure hunting company, Odyssey Marine Exploration.

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Odyssey Marine Exploration found the wreck of the Spanish ship the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes. The US treasure ship and its captain were detained by Spain. Spain had boarded the ship under threat of opening fire, they seized the ship, Odyssey Explorer, and arrested the captain for a short time. This can be hair-raising stuff!

The American company found a whopping 17 tonnes of coins just off the coast of Gibraltar and moved them to the United States.

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  • Coins: Around 500,000 Coins And Other Artifacts
  • Outcome: Odyssey Was Ordered To Relinquish The Treasure To Spain
  • Value: Around $500 Million in 2007
  • Tons: 17 Tons of Treasure

Related: 20 Of The Most Over-The-Top Underwater Shipwrecks To See Around The World

In the end, they were ordered to give them back to the Spanish government. According to the BBC, Odyssey claimed to have found the wreck in international waters and said they had salvage rights. But Spain said they never relinquished ownership and that they were part of the country's national heritage.

In the end, after a 5 year-long battle, it didn't matter if the ship was in international waters or not as it was a warship.

Today Odyssey is continuing their oceanic searches and one can see what they do on their website.

  • Other Discoveries: Odyssey Has Discovered the SS Republic, "Black Swan" aka Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, HMS Victory, and SS Gairsoppa.

Cape Canaveral Off Florida

Another hotspot of treasure ship exploration is Cape Canaveral just off the coast of Florida.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine in their article entitled "A Shipwreck Off Florida’s Coast Pits Archaeologists Against Treasure Hunters", Cape Canaveral contains "one of the greatest concentrations of colonial shipwrecks in the world." One can expect to see plenty more discoveries and legal battles in the years ahead.

  • Cape Canaveral: A Hotspot Of Treasure Hunting

Next: It's Rumored That Captain Kidd's Famous Treasure Can Be Found On This Connecticut Island