With the invention of the aqua-lung in the 1950s, the oceans became readily accessible to everyday people. As more scuba divers began entering the water shipwrecks were continuing to be discovered with each passing year. Along with this revolution in diving technology commercial salvage companies began to be formed to salvage these shipwrecks that were continually being discovered throughout the world.
It was during this same period of time that the science of marine archaeology was born. Led by such notable authorities as Dr. George Bass of Texas AM University, these pioneers began adapting methods of land based archaeological investigation to undersea locations. Both the science of underwater archaeology and the industry of shipwreck salvage have been driven by the continual evolution in technology.
New types of equipment and procedures have helped make the location and excavation of shipwrecks more efficient and cost effective while greatly increasing the safety for personnel involved. Today, it is widely accepted that there is no shipwreck anywhere in the world that cannot be located and recovered using modern technology.
For the past several decades science and salvage have continued to grow as separate professions. This growth, coupled with increased regulatory action on the part of governments, has resulted in conflict between commercial salvers and marine archaeologists.
Marine archaeologists are concerned about archaeologically important shipwrecks being destroyed by commercial salvage companies. Archaeological excavation is itself a destructive science, you get only one chance to excavate a site. Once a site has been disturbed, very little information can be recovered.
Historically, commercial salvage companies have had a poor record concerning preservation of the archaeological information from a wreck site. This past record justifies the concerns of members of the archaeological community.
However, in recent years significant improvements have been made throughout the commercial salvage industry. Companies now realize the importance of the wreck sites they are working and maintain accredited professionals in the disciplines of archaeology, artifact preservation and restoration.
ORRV firmly supports the position of archaeologists concerning preservation of the archaeological information found within a shipwreck. Our company will only work with commercial organizations that maintain the highest professional standards when working on a shipwreck project. Our standard surpasses just the preservation of the in situ record. It also includes the preservation and restoration of recovered materials, as well as publication of all relevant scientific data.
The other area of controversy centers around ownership of items recovered from a shipwreck. There are two opposing arguments:
The archaeological community believes that any item of historical significance should belong in a museum or other public institution for the benefit of scientific study and public enjoyment. No item from a shipwreck should fall into the hands of private collectors.
Commercial salvage companies feel that since they and their backers invest their money and assume an enormous amount of risk to locate a valuable shipwreck, they are entitled to a portion of the materials recovered as compensation for their efforts.
ORRV feels that both arguments have merit. We also believe it is possible to both safeguard the archaeological community’s interests and the interests of investors. If one considers certain facts it becomes apparent that there is a logical way to balance these opposing positions. For example,Unique, one of a kind items of high scientific interest should always go to museums so they are available for detailed scientific study and public enjoyment. While these types of items can bring very high prices in the global antiquities markets, scientific study and adding to our knowledge of the past must be given priority.
Items of limited scientific value, such as coins, bullion, precious stones or multiplesof a particular item could be used as compensation to commercial salvers assuming that representative samples are provided to museums for study. This provides incentive to commercial salvers to work with the archaeological community in a positive manner, protects the needs of the scientific community, provides an additional source of funding for archaeological research and reduces costs to museums who must pay for storage of items they do not have room to display.
ORRV has positioned itself to act as a bridge between the archaeological and salvage communities. We believe that the best solution for the long-term benefit of science and salvage is for both to work together in a realistic manner. Through a cooperative effort, taking advantages of the strengths of each other, we feel that both parties can benefit in ways not possible to achieve by working separately.