BEAUFORT — Intersal Inc., the research exploration firm that discovered the shipwreck believed to be Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, announced today that it has reached an agreement with a major deep-ocean shipwreck exploration company to search off the county’s coast for a shipwreck Intersal believes to be the El Salvador.
The El Salvador, a Spanish merchant vessel that sank off the North Carolina coast during a hurricane in 1750, is believed to contain millions of dollars in gold and silver, as well as other precious cargo.
John Masters, operations director for Intersal, said his company has reached an agreement with Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Fla., to pursue the search for the shipwreck.
Mr. Masters and his late father Phil Masters had been following since 2000 a trail of shipwreck debris in Beaufort Inlet they believed belonged to the El Salvador. Field operations stopped when Phil Masters became ill and died in 2007.
Intersal had retrieved seven cannons from the site in 2000 and 2001, but the cannons remain in the custody of North Carolina until Mr. Masters can prove the wreck is the El Salvador.
“We only have a research permit for the El Salvador, so until we can prove that it is, the cannons will remain in the custody of the state,” Mr. Masters said.
“Odyssey is the recognized world leader in ocean exploration, and best able to complete the work my father began years ago. He would not have partnered with anyone but the best in the industry, and I believe teaming up with a company of Odyssey’s caliber and quality is the surest way to make his vision a reality.”
Mr. Masters said documents related to the agreement now go to the state for review and to work out details.
“We are presently approaching state officials to discuss the conditions under which this agreement will work,” he said.
The reason for the agreement with Odyssey is that Odyssey holds a permit and admiralty arrest claim on an area that begins 12 miles off the coast where a number of gold and silver artifacts were discovered in 2007 that may be part of the debris trail of the El Salvador.
Intersal holds an exploration permit from the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, while Odyssey does not. By the two companies teaming together, they can share resources to pursue exploration and abide by the state’s guidelines for shipwreck exploration.
The agreement entitles Odyssey to share in substantial research and data acquired by Intersal over the years relating to the shipwreck and the work completed to date in the permit area. A number of artifacts have been recovered from the site, which is the subject of an admiralty arrest action by Intersal in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Documents are being prepared to request the substitution of Odyssey as plaintiff in the case. By taking over the arrest, Odyssey will assume certain rights and obligations associated with continuing operations at the site. The site, which Odyssey has nicknamed “Firefly,” was acquired from BDJ Discovery Group in 2007.
“This agreement with Intersal is a win/win situation for both parties,” said Mark Gordon, President of Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. “Intersal’s remarkable body of research and preliminary work has already yielded promising results, including the recovery of several interesting artifacts from the site. We are looking forward to using our own advanced technology and expertise to further explore the search area and are committed to continuing Intersal’s excellent relationship with the state and local governments of North Carolina.
“Even though our own arrested ‘Firefly’ site falls outside the state’s jurisdiction, we anticipate including them in archaeological activities at that site as well as Intersal’s,” he added.
Greg Stemm, Odyssey’s CEO, paid tribute to the late Mr. Masters and said he looked forward to working with his son John.
“We lost a great friend and spokesperson for responsible commercial underwater archaeology last year when we lost Phil,” Mr. Stemm said. “Phil made a great impression on everyone he met and really took the lead in proving that private groups can excel in underwater archaeology through his work in North Carolina. Continuing his work on this project with his son John, who brings a lot of experience to the table himself, is a real privilege.”
Mr. Stemm said his company has been involved in several other major exploration projects that has stretched the company’s operational capacity and has prevented him from putting a team off the North Carolina coast this year. But some of those projects will be winding down and he hopes to begin work off the North Carolina coast in 2009.