|From: Glenn Petersen||11/24/2013 6:10:05 PM|
A 29-Year-Old Hedge Fund Manager Is Shorting A Deep Sea Treasure Hunting Company To Zero
Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. (NASDAQ: OMEX) is a company that dives for ship wrecked treasure and sells it.
Ryan Morris is a 29 year-old managing partner of Meson Capital, a San Francisco based hedge fund with $15 million assets under management, and he's certain that OMEX is going all the way to zero.
The company, he says, is hemorrhaging money. In its quest for buried sea treasures, OMEX is coming up empty.
Morris doesn't usually short companies to zero — activist investing is more his forte — but the deeper he dug into OMEX, the weirder things got.
Founded in 1994 by Bob Hope's former PR manager, Morris says that OMEX insiders made unfulfilled promises to investors and collected over $20 million in cash while the company has lost over $180 million since 2000.
"I heard about it maybe a year ago and didn't pay much attention because it seemed so ridiculous," said Morris "Then around 6 months ago they [OMEX] disclosed that they set up all these off-shore entities off the coast of Panama and Bahamas, and it was just one of those things where every layer you peel back the onion is just more horrific."
Back in 2007, the company essentially peaked when it dug up the remains of a Spanish warship that sunk in 1804, Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes — OMEX called the site 'Black Swan'. Buried deep underwater were 594,000 silver coins, as well as a couple hundred gold ones, according to Bloomberg.
A big score, sure, until the Spanish government sued to get their booty back. Under maritime law, if a ship is sunk while doing its duty, everything on it belongs to its country of origin. So after a five year battle, OMEX lost its haul and was fined $1,072,979 in the process.
Last year, OMEX's CEO, Greg Stemm admitted that the company has spent more money on wrecks it hasn't found than the $2.6 million it spent on Black Swan. Naturally, investors were furious.
Back to Meson. The hedge fund's full 66 page OMEX take-down was published on October 31st of this year.
In response, the company called Meson's strategy a "short and distort," and wrote a letter to shareholders saying:
"Odyssey's management believes that it is in the best interest of our shareholders to remain focused on business rather than debating or responding to rumor and innuendo. However, due to the number of inquiries to the company, management felt it important to reaffirm and stand by the accuracy of all information which has been released by the company."
After that, OMEX called a conference call, but did not take questions.
Meson pointed out in a follow-up report, that OMEX didn't refute any of its statements about the company on the call: Questions related to how the company loses $20 million a year, and can spend $25,000 a day on its ships.
Or questions related to Neptune Minerals, Inc. Before Meson's report, OMEX claimed that Neptune was the source of $108 million in "off balance sheet value" for the company. After the report, OMEX issued a heavily revised 10-Q in which Neptune appears, to Meson, to be insolvent.
When you find a company like this, said Morris, "There's a lot of horror and befuddlement."
No one ever said treasure hunting was easy.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||11/30/2013 5:52:10 PM|
|A Gold Rush in the Abyss|
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
New York Times
Published: July 9, 2012
FUTURE Geologists with Nautilus Minerals examined a drill core sample. The company plans to mine a site rich in gold and copper in the Bismarck Sea.
Tom Dettweiler makes his living miles down. He helped find the Titanic. After that, his teams located a lost submarine heavy with gold. In all, he has cast light on dozens of vanished ships.
Mr. Dettweiler has now turned from recovering lost treasures to prospecting for natural ones that litter the seabed: craggy deposits rich in gold and silver, copper and cobalt, lead and zinc. A new understanding of marine geology has led to the discovery of hundreds of these unexpected ore bodies, known as massive sulfides because of their sulfurous nature.
These finds are fueling a gold rush as nations, companies and entrepreneurs race to stake claims to the sulfide-rich areas, which dot the volcanic springs of the frigid seabed. The prospectors — motivated by dwindling resources on land as well as record prices for gold and other metals — are busy hauling up samples and assessing deposits valued at trillions of dollars.
“We’ve had extreme success,” Mr. Dettweiler said in a recent interview about the deepwater efforts of his company, Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Fla.
Skeptics once likened mining the deep to looking for riches on the moon. No more. Progress in marine geology, predictions of metal shortages in the decades ahead and improving access to the abyss are combining to make it real.
Environmentalists have expressed growing alarm, saying too little research has been done on the risks of seabed mining. The industry has responded with studies, reassurance and upbeat conferences.
The technological advances center on new robots, sensors and other equipment, some of it derived from the offshore oil and gas industry. Ships lower exploratory gear on long tethers and send down sharp drills that gnaw into the rocky seabed. All of this underwater machinery is making it more and more feasible to find, map and recover seabed riches.
Industrial powers — including government-supported groups in China, Japan and South Korea — are hunting for sulfides in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. And private companies like Odyssey have made hundreds of deep assessments and claims in the volcanic zones around Pacific island nations: Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
The International Seabed Authority, a sleepy United Nations body located in Jamaica that presides over mineral rights on the high seas, an area its officials like to characterize as 51 percent of the earth’s surface, has found itself besieged with sulfide queries.
“We are entering a new stage,” Nii Allotey Odunton of Ghana, secretary general of the authority, told a meeting in November.
Since the Pacific islands control mineral rights in their territorial waters, they can negotiate mining deals more easily than the seabed authority, which tends to plod along by international consensus.
Odyssey Marine Exploration, which recently expanded from shipwreck recovery into deep prospecting, began scouring the Pacific waters in 2010, discovering far more gold, silver and copper than expected.
“There’s a lot at stake,” Mr. Dettweiler said. If metal prices go up, he added, “a billion-dollar deposit can turn into a hundred billion.”
Scientists once thought the main source of wealth in the deep sea lay in beds of potato-size rocks that could be mined for such common metals as iron and nickel. In the 1960s and ’70s, entrepreneurs tried to scoop them up, but the rewards never offset the high cost of exploration, retrieval and transportation.
Things began to change in 1979 with the discovery of “black smokers”, sulfurous mounds and towers that gush blistering-hot water. The smokers turned out to dot the 46,000 miles of volcanic fissures that gird the global seabed like seams on a baseball.
Scientists found that the smokers formed as hot water rose through the volcanic rocks, hit icy seawater and shed a variety of minerals that slowly coalesced into eerie mounds and chimneys. One, found off Washington State and nicknamed Godzilla, stood more than 15 stories high.
The first wave of discovery showed that the volcanic springs harbored riots of bizarre creatures, including thickets of tube worms. The second wave showed that the mounds and chimneys — hot and cold, new and old, active and inactive — were composed of complex minerals that contained surprising amounts of copper, silver and gold.
Today, increasingly, mines on land lack rich supplies of copper, a staple of modern life found in everything from pipes to computers. Many commercial ores have concentrations of only a half a percent. But seabed explorers have found purities of 10 percent and higher — turning the obscure deposits into potential bonanzas. The same turned out to be true of silver and gold.
Fifteen years ago, would-be underwater miners staked the world’s first claim: Nautilus Minerals won title to about 2,000 square miles of the Papua New Guinea seabed rich in volcanic features. The company, based in Toronto, inched toward mining but quickly expanded its prospecting to hundreds of Pacific sites and has since identified dozens of areas as potential candidates for seabed mining.
Last year, Nautilus won a 20-year lease to mine a rich deposit in the Bismarck Sea, in the southwestern Pacific. The mounds are a mile down. The company says the site holds about 10 tons of gold and 125,000 tons of copper.
Nautilus plans to start mining next year but also cites possible delays. It is building robots up to 25 feet tall that are to collect sulfides and pump them to the surface. Barges are then to carry the seabed minerals to Rabaul, a Papua New Guinea port some 30 miles away.
“We’re making good progress,” Stephen Rogers, the company’s chief executive, recently told analysts.
Critics say the plan is potentially dangerous for fisheries, islanders and ecosystems. In a 32-page report, “ Out of Our Depth,” an international group of environmentalists that calls itself the Deep Sea Mining Campaign noted that the volcanic sites shelter hundreds of species previously unknown to science.
The group said information gaps should be filled and mitigation plans developed “before mining begins.”
In an interview, Mr. Rogers called the group’s analysis unfair. “We’re developing detailed environmental plans and have an obligation to do that,” he said. “We’re very proud of what we’ve done.”
He added that his company was working closely with some of the world’s leading oceanographers and that its operations were shedding light on the sulfide mysteries. “We’re advancing the science,” he said.
Experts around the globe are watching Nautilus closely to see how it navigates the perils of environmental politics, novel technologies and unpredictable markets.
“Any success will work as a trigger for other mining companies,” said Georgy Cherkashov, a Russian marine geologist and president of the International Marine Minerals Society.
China, the world’s largest consumer of gold, copper and many other industrial metals, has shown little interest in waiting for declarations of success. When the seabed authority adopted rules for sulfide prospecting in May 2010, Beijing’s representative filed the country’s application on the same day.
China does its mineral hunting from ships. It is also developing a submersible known as Jiaolong, after a mythical sea dragon, that can carry three people down deep enough to investigate the sulfide areas.
Last year, it signed a contract with the authority for exclusive sulfide rights to 3,860 square miles, about the size of Puerto Rico, on a volcanic rift nearly two miles below the Indian Ocean. Jin Jiancai, secretary general of China’s ocean mineral resources agency, told reporters that such deposits “will help China meet the increasing demand” for refined metals.
Meanwhile, Tong Ling, China’s largest importer of copper concentrates and one of the world’s largest copper smelters, recently signed a deal with Nautilus for more than a million tons of Pacific sulfide ores per year — an amount equal to about 5 percent of the world’s copper production.
Russia joined the high-seas rush in 2011, and France and South Korea in May. Recently, Seoul also cut a deal for sulfide prospecting in the waters of Fiji, letting it tap the mineral bounty of Pacific volcanism.
John R. Delaney, an oceanographer at the University of Washington who has studied the volcanic springs for decades, said the threat of environmental harm from seabed mining probably centered less on the high-seas projects of developed states than those in the territorial waters of the Pacific islanders.
“They’re more worried about their economies than the environment,” he said in an interview.
Dr. Cherkashov of the minerals society played down the environmental concerns, saying one reason for the global rush is that seabed mining has a relatively low impact compared with land operations.
“It’s first come, first get,” he said of the multiplying claims. The wide maneuvering for the most promising sites, he added, represents “the last redivision of the world.”
A version of this article appeared in print on July 10, 2012, on page D1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Gold Rush in the Abyss.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||8/2/2014 2:42:51 PM|
|Out of Wreckage, Lives Emerge|
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
New York Times
JULY 28, 2014
A gold puzzle ring recovered from the wreckage of the S.S. Central America.
A treasure-laden ship that has lain silent on the Atlantic seabed for more than 150 years is giving up some of its secrets, as explorers who have revisited it for the first time in two decades detail in reports on their recovery operations. The sunken hulk, off South Carolina, has so far given up 45 gold bars, 47 pieces of gold jewelry, more than 2,000 gold coins and some 11,500 silver coins.
Other retrieved items, including a pair of glasses, speak of the lives lost. Eerily, the explorers found some 60 ambrotypes, a kind of early photograph on glass plates. The photographs, which are being left in the ship’s debris field until a conservation plan can be devised, portray miners and in one case a man and woman, their portrait set off by an oval mat.
The ship, the S.S. Central America, was steaming for New York in September 1857 when a hurricane sent it down with 425 people and tons of California gold aboard. The bones of the side-wheeler were discovered in 1988 more than a mile beneath the waves. But dreams of fabulous wealth fell apart as insurers and angry investors also filed claims.
After the original finder fled and became a legal fugitive in 2012, a court in Ohio appointed a receiver charged with recovering as much treasure as possible for creditors and duped investors. The receiver hired a company to revisit the shipwreck.
On April 15, the company, Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Fla., lowered a robot to the site and brought up five gold bars weighing 66 pounds — the metal alone is worth about $1.2 million, but could fetch even more as artifacts. The preliminary step opened a new chapter meant to raise the remaining treasure and explore the shipwreck.
To date, Odyssey has filed three monthly reports on its recovery efforts with the court-appointed receiver, Ira O. Kane, a Columbus, Ohio, lawyer and businessman. The legal action centers on Columbus because the ship’s discoverer who later fled the law, Thomas G. Thompson, made that city his base of operations.
Odyssey’s reports are laced with color photographs of the wreckage and treasure, on the bottom and in conservation. The largest gold bar recovered to date measures about 10 inches long and weighs roughly 22 pounds — worth about $415,000 as metal at current prices.
The jewelry includes a gold puzzle ring. Its six interconnected loops — as is usual for rings of this type, which jewelers devised centuries ago, often as wedding rings — come apart readily but are difficult to put together again, forming a mechanical puzzle of complex design. Its closure device features a motif of clasping hands.
“The gold gets the headlines,” Mr. Kane said in a statement. But the archaeological finds and scientific discoveries, he added, “will deliver significant educational benefits for years to come.”
Some of the thousands of gold and silver coins and early photographic plates found in the S.S. Central America, which sank off South Carolina in 1857. Credit Recovery Limited Partnership
A major find still lying on the bottom is a large iron safe, its door corroded after more than a century in briny seawater. The exploratory team directed its large tethered robot, equipped with a manipulator arm, to open the door.
The safe contained several packages, which the robot removed. Two small packets, tied with twine and sealed with red wax, “appear to be filled with paper” and have been put in safekeeping “until they can be opened and studied in a proper conservation laboratory,” a report noted.
Other items found in the safe include a pistol and two cotton garments wrapped tightly around gold coins and gold nuggets.
A pouch on one garment came open and produced a small fortune in gold coins known as double eagles, which had a face value of $20 apiece in the 19th century. Today, coins of similar provenance are sold online for $9,500 to $110,000 each. The pouch held 134 of coins.
Exploration of the debris field also yielded a sextant, a navigational device used to determine the angle between a celestial object and the horizon. The last of the three monthly reports said the instrument may have been used to fix the position of the Central America “until she sank.”
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|From: Glenn Petersen||12/1/2015 11:04:16 AM|
|Not specific to Odyssey:|
With Shipwreck Treasure Easier to Reach, a Duel Is On
By FRANCES ROBLES
New York Times
NOV. 30, 2015
Dan Porter, a Florida captain who led the expedition to find the galleon San José in the Gulf of Panama, surveying a site off South Carolina. Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times
MIAMI — The Spanish galleon San José was overloaded with 200 passengers and 700 tons of cargo on a summer night in 1631 when it smashed into a rock off the Pacific coast of Panama, spilling silver coins and bars into the Gulf of Panama. More than 400,000 coins and at least 1,417 bars were lost over a 40-mile trail.
Four hundred years later, that shipwreck has become one of the latest to land in a legal quagmire over who should have the rights to historic artifacts trapped under the sea. This one involves the United Nations, the United States Department of Homeland Security, the government of Panama and Americans accused of being pirates. At issue is whether private companies should be able to claim and profit from historic treasures
Those questions are of particular interest to businesses in South Florida at a time when technology is making it easier to find and recover sunken loot. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that there are over 1,000 shipwrecks in the Florida Keys alone.
Silver coins recovered from the San José at the Investigaciones Marinas del Istmo conservation lab in Panama. Credit Carol Tedesco
In the case of the San José booty, commercial treasure hunters, financed in part by an adventure entrepreneur who runs tours to the Titanic, spent over $2 million and 10 years recovering portions of the treasure, only to see their permits questioned and bounty confiscated.
“They called us thieves, looters, plunderers and pirates,” said Dan Porter, a Florida captain who led the expedition to find the San José. “That’s an insult. I hold this work in the highest regard.”
But the industry is engaged in a battle with academic marine archaeologists and Unesco, the Paris-based United Nations agency that tries to protect cultural treasures around the world. Critics say buried coins and loot should be studied and preserved in a museum, not sported around an investor’s neck.
“Treasure hunters are to maritime archaeologists what astrologers are to astronomers,” said Filipe Castro, a nautical archaeologist at Texas A&M University.
The Department of Homeland Security has opened an investigation into the case, and several criminal complaints are pending in Panama. Those actions underscore the perils that often accompany maritime salvage recovery, particularly as nations become increasingly sensitive to the cultural significance of underwater treasures.
In the colonial era, Spain sent fleets to the new world to excavate gold and silver from places like Bolivia and Peru, but hurricanes and other mishaps often sent ships and the gold they carried to unreachable depths.
Pirates and plunderers have long sought to recover them. As technology to find them has improved in recent decades, many legitimate companies have begun hunting, too, only to find their discoveries challenged in court.
Panama was so committed to preventing plundering that in 2003, it became among the first countries to sign a United Nations treaty protecting underwater cultural heritage. But at the same time, Panama’s Ministry of Economy and Finance granted a contract giving salvage rights along its waters to a company called Investigaciones Marinas del Istmo, or IMDI.
Investors included a former Panamanian governor; a Mexican-American engineer; Mike McDowell, an Australian adventure entrepreneur; and — for a different IMDI salvage project — Pat Croce, a former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers.
IMDI spent about 10 years fighting legal challenges. The company prevailed, and, with permits and court verdicts in hand, the subaquatic dig for the San José went on. Panamanian government inspectors supervised the project, and a “world class” conservation lab was built to log and preserve each discovery, the company said.
Among other items, divers found gold and diamond jewelry, pottery, and nearly 10,000 silver coins, worth up to $1,000 each. Only one 60-pound silver bar was recovered. Based on the contract, the government got to keep anything it considered historically relevant, plus 35 percent of everything else.
Some Panamanian government officials objected to the deal and brought in Unesco, which sent a task force to Panama to review the project. Excavation stopped. Even after the haul was divided and the government received its share, the country’s comptroller noted a number of irregularities in the contract, questioned its validity and requested an investigation into how it had been obtained.
A shipwreck coin expert, Carol Tedesco, examined coins recovered from the San José at the IMDI project lab. Credit Rojelio Garcia Boyd
“The government stopped us, even though we did everything by the book,” said Alberto Vásquez, an IMDI vice president.
This summer, when Mr. Vásquez emerged from a bank in Panama City where he had gone to retrieve some of the company’s share of coins that were stored in a safe deposit box, the government seized 3,000 coins, saying he did not have permission to transport it.
In September, Captain Porter, who led an expedition, returned to Florida with his 100 coins, worth about $500 or $600 each. The United States Border Patrol boarded his salvage vessel, searched it with dogs for six hours and confiscated the coins.
Citing an open investigation, Nestor J. Yglesias, a spokesman for Homeland Security Investigations, the criminal investigation arm of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to comment.
Panamanian government officials requested a list of questions from The New York Times, but did not respond to them, despite repeated requests.
Ulrike Guérin, who runs Unesco’s underwater culture program, said it was not up to the United Nations to determine the legality of IMDI’s contract, but she stressed that the agency was pleased to see Panama stepping up to stop treasure hunting.
Ms. Guérin said Unesco was trying to stop commercial salvagers around the world because they regularly destroy sites without giving any consideration to historical preservation or environmental damage. The divers take special care to preserve valuables such as coins, but disregard precious pottery if it looks too cracked to sell, she said.
“This is a fishy business of treasure hunting,” she said in a telephone interview. “I have not seen any case that was a success and everyone liking it. It ends up in a slaughter, destroying the heritage.”
James A. Goold, a lawyer in Washington, often steps in on Spain’s behalf when commercial shipwreck divers try to claim long-lost treasures, including some the government believes were fakes.
“These ships are time capsules that are irreplaceable and should be preserved for public benefit for study by cultural authorities and archaeologists,” Mr. Goold said.
In October, Mr. Goold sent notice to a Tampa company, Global Marine Exploration, which is looking for ships from a 1715 Spanish fleet lost in a hurricane, warning that Spain has not given up its rights to long-lost vessels. In 2009, a leading Tampa treasure-hunting company was ordered to return 17 tons of gold and silver from the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, which sank off Portugal in 1804.
Treasure hunters are hoping for a compromise.
“You should look at these more like an airplane crash or car crash,” said James J. Sinclair, a marine archaeologist hired by IMDI to evaluate the finds. “You don’t leave them at the side of the road and preserve them forever.”
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