History - HMS Sussex - Part 2: Excavation of the shipwreck


by Chris Chaplow

.....Continued from Priceless English Shipwreck found of Gibraltar

The 251-foot Odyssey Explorer ©  shipwreck.net
The 251-foot Odyssey Explorer © shipwreck.net


Odyssey had planned to be on-site in the Mediterranean Sea during the summer of 2003, but this was delayed until early 2005. Just as Odyssey was about to start excavation it withdrew for 15 days "in order to allow the Spanish Government time to review the archaeological methods and administrative issues relating to the project and to discuss protocols for the exploration and protection of Spanish shipwrecks that Odyssey finds in the area or elsewhere throughout the world". (Odyssey then began search operations on the "Atlas" project, which consists of five target shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.)

This was presumably in response to the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs authorising a diplomatic note, issued in August 2005 to the US Embassy, saying that the Odyssey could search for the Sussex as long as the company contacted the regional authorities to obtain a representative to accompany the Odyssey. However, Odyssey never had a reply from the Junta de Andalucía (Regional Government). On 18 November 2005 the American Ambassador raised this issue with Minister Carmen Calvo, who made little of it. The US government believed that International law was on Odyssey's side. Souce: Wikileaks cable.

In December 2005, Odyssey's 251-foot deep-ocean archaeological platform, the Odyssey Explorer, returned to the western Mediterranean from the "Atlas" search area. The ship and crew conducted the initial phases of Odyssey's Sussex project plan as approved by British Government. On 28 December the US Embassy in Madrid received a message from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking why Odyssey was working on the site without the necessary permissions.  

In January 2006, Odyssey announced it had completed archaeological and environmental survey operations of Phase 1A (taking records), and a substantial portion of Phase 1B (excavation) of the Sussex project plan. A report was submitted to the British Government, and reviewed by the Ministry of Defence and the Sussex Archaeological Executive committee. The British Government notified Odyssey that the work detailed in the report met or exceeded all requirements of Phase 1A of the Sussex project plan, and that Odyssey was authorised to proceed to complete Phase 1B of the project. (A public version of the project plan is available here.) Odyssey's archaeological team has also completed a report detailing results of Phase 1B accomplished during January, which was submitted to HMG in March 2006.


On 26 January 2006, a "nota verbal" was communicated to Odyssey through diplomatic channels requesting that the company suspend operations until the Junta de Andalucía had appointed an expert to observe operations on the site believed to be the Sussex. It pointed out that the Junta had not appointed an expert to date because it believed Odyssey was working without appropriate authorisation and the project plan presented by Odyssey did not comply with the applicable Andalucian legislation. Although the Spanish state is responsible for its territorial waters, responsibility for archaeology is divested to the regional governments, in this case Junta de Andalucía. 

Odyssey claimed that the Spanish Government had assured them that the failure of the Junta to appoint an expert to join the operation would not be considered a failure of Odyssey to comply with the cooperative agreement. 

Meetings were held in Spain in February 2006 between the Spanish Government, Junta de Andalucía and UK Government. Odyssey agreed to re-submit an archaeological project plan pursuant to specific requirements requested by Spanish authorities to move the project forward. This plan, which included collaboration with Spanish archaeologists, was delivered in March 2006.

In May 2006, a response was received from the Junta of Andalucía and in early June Odyssey provided clarification on these points. Communication was painfully slow as it routed from the Junta de Andalucía via Spain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the offices of the UK Embassy to Odyssey in Florida.

On 23 March 2007, the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release to announce an agreement between Spain and the United Kingdom for Odyssey to proceed with the "Alborán project" (Spain's name after the sea where the wreck lies), which included preliminary phases of excavation and identification of the site as well as a survey of the area in which the shipwreck lies. As part of this agreement, Odyssey agreed to provide information relating to other shipwrecks in the surrounding area to the Spanish Government, in order to assist in their protection and preservation.

Continued......... Black Swan and current situation