Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Could sunken treasure be a fix for Washington budget woes?

From Could sunken treasure be a fix for Washington budget woes?
You might have heard about this earlier in the week. American treasure hunting company Odyssey Marine Exploration recently found two British ships full of silver that were sunk by the Germans.

The company was hired by the British government, and it turns out the Brits are actively trying to find a bunch of treasure ships they lost at sea as a way to boost their budgets.

Is that an answer to Washington's budget problems?

The silver haul from those two ships alone could be over $200 million. While no ships were torpedoed off the Washington Coast, hundreds of them have gone down in bad weather over the last 200 years. A lot of them near the Columbia River on the Southwest Coast, and an even bigger number of them off the Northwest tip of state.

"The boats would miss the Tatoosh Lighthouse, and they would keep sailing north," says local dive expert Scott Boyd. "They would pile up on the rocks on southwest Vancouver Island. There are hundreds and hundreds of wrecks up there."

Boyd, who is with NW Wreck Dives has been diving wrecks around Puget Sound and the world for about ten years.

He's written the book on where to go and what to see, whether it's on the bottom of Lake Washington or in Elliott Bay or in Puget Sound.

Boyd said there is one gold ship out there that has had hunters searching the Northwest coast for years.

The Pacific went down in 1875. It was a gold rush ship heading from British Columbian to San Francisco. There were several hundred people on board. Only one survived.

"As is typical with treasure hunting," Boyd said. "The size of the treasure grows with the age." Some estimates put the haul at $40 million, though the only confirmed gold on board was $80,000 in the safe.

Most of the wrecks off the Washington Coast were full of lumber and furs. So the chances of cashing in here, Boyd said, are slim.

"You start talking around the world, and there are some very famous ships that have gone down with large cargoes of gold that have never been discovered. They're there but not up here."

And even if there were, he said, the chances of finding one and making money on the find aren't very good.

"My understanding of most treasure hunting ventures is that they never actually make any money. I know the search for the Pacific, several companies have spent millions and millions of dollars, and I'm not sure there's millions of dollars to be gained."

I checked with the governor's office, the office of financial management,and department of revenue, and none of them said the state has looked at treasure hunting as a novel way to fix the budget.

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