A federal judge has granted salvage rights to a 200-year-old wrecked Swedish merchant ship off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, to a Key West salvor family.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence King awarded title to the Briggen Hialmar to Blue Hole Expeditions of 200 Greene St., which shares the address with Mel Fisher's Treasures. Its principals are Kim Fisher and Sean Fisher, Mel's son and grandson, respectively.
King awarded title on April 24, "together with all her tackle, armaments, apparel and cargo ... wherever the same may be found against the world."
Blue Hole Expeditions had been named substitute custodians of the 1831 shipwreck in October 2010, and the company advertised the discovery and no one claimed it, Kim Fisher said.
Though King awarded title to Blue Hole, it remains to be seen whether the company will have to take part in the legal process known as "adjudication of ownership," in which Judge King decides if subsequently discovered artifacts were legally taken from the wreck.
The exploration of the Briggen Hialmar wreck site is being conducted at a depth of 17,400 feet using surface-controlled remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).
"It's all being done with ROVs," Kim Fisher said. "It's just too expensive to do it any other way, and using ROVs are still costing about $50,000 to $60,000 a day."
There are only two known ROVs available for commercial use, and their operational cost has kept the dive pace slow, Fisher said.
Unlike the well-known Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita, Spanish galleons that sank off Key West in 1622, the Briggen Hialmar wasn't carrying gold and silver coins or other such treasure.
King adjudicated ownership of Atocha and Margarita treasure found in 2011 at the same April 24 hearing in which he adjudicated title of the Birggen Hialmar, Fisher said. "Her main cargo was Brazilwood," he said of the Swedish vessel. "It was used to dye textiles and was very valuable cargo back then."
Thus far, crews have brought up the ship's bell, assorted pottery shards and one chamber pot, along with other personal items, Fisher said.
"We've got to figure out how to market Brazilwood," he said with a laugh.
The ship was built in 1812 and sank in 1831 about 600 miles to 700 miles southeast of St. John's, Newfoundland, according to court documents.
Its exact location is sealed in those documents, but the description provided means it sank about 425 miles away from the RMS Titanic, which sank in the same cold waters of the North Atlantic 81 years later in 1912.
The Fisher family received international attention in 1985 when Mel Fisher's divers discovered the "main pile" of the Atocha treasure.