Interested in gold, but not in storing it yourself? How about investing in treasure hunters? The publicly-traded Odyssey Marine Exploration recently discovered the sunken warship HMS Victory at the bottom of the English Channel. CEO Gregg Stemm estimates the wreck has about 100,000 gold coins aboard. Spiegel interviewed him. Here are some excerpts:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You alway stress the scientific part of what you do rather than the quest for profit. Yet you are CEO of a publicly traded company and have to think about your investors.
Stemm: It is a fusion of business and science. Some people might be cynical about it, but I see no difference to medicine, chemistry and other sciences. They all earn money, yet nobody would doubt that they do valuable scientific work. You can be a good businessman and a good scientist at the same time.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Still, marine archaeologists regard your trade with suspicion. They say commercial salvage companies destroy wrecks and disturb the dead.
Stemm: They do not have any evidence. During our work in the English Channel, we investigated 25 shipwreck sites. We took only very few artifacts and delivered them to the British government. We do not talk about marine archaeology, we practice it. Excavating a wreck like the HMS Victory costs $30 million. No government is willing to spend that kind of money — even less so in a recession.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In 2007, you upset the Spanish government by taking 500,000 gold and silver coins from another wreck off Gibraltar, codenamed the “Black Swan.” The government in Madrid sued you for stealing a national treasure. The case is still in court. Was that operation a mistake in retrospect?
Stemm: There are some people in the Cultural Ministry of Spain who do not like Odyssey’s business model. We did not know the coins belonged to anybody. What do you do, if you find a huge open coinfield on the sea floor? You bring the coins to safety and hand the case over to a judge. Secrecy is key in our business if you do not want half a dozen other companies exploring your site.
See the rest of the interview here.