Topic ID #20121 - posted 5/28/2012 1:32 PM

HMS Victory Scandal



Beleaguered Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt is in the midst of another “omnishambles” which threatens to open David Cameron’s Government up to further accusations of cronyism and dodgy backstairs deals with lobbyists and Tory insiders. This time it is over how the Department of Culture Media and Sport, together with the Ministry of Defence, contrived to gift one of Britain’s most historic shipwrecks to a private foundation led by a senior Conservative Peer with no previous interest or experience in maritime archaeology, who also happens to be closely associated with a Florida based commercial salvage company, whose USP is trying to make money out of selling other peoples underwater heritage.

The Department of Culture Media and Sport and the Ministry of Defence are currently sinking under broadside after broadside of requests under the Freedom of Information Act all asking one thing…

Did one former and two current of the most senior ministers in David Cameron’s Government, Dr Liam Fox, Jeremy Hunt and Phillip Hammond, attempt another B-Sky-B style deal and offer preferential treatment to a foreign commercial salvage company, Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc of Tampa Florida through their front man, a senior Tory insider Lord Lingfield?

And it gets worse…

In spite of the damning verdict of members of the MOD’s own HMS Victory 1744 Archaeological Group regarding the competence and capability of the Maritime Heritage Foundation, e-mails released under the Freedom of Information Act show the Ministry of Defence and Department of Culture Media and Sport are still considering gifting the Maritime Heritage Foundation and its puppeteer Odyssey, another historic wreck, HMS Gloucester sunk in 1682 off the coast of East Anglia.

Mortimer, the independent voice for our archaeology and heritage, has been working on this story with our colleagues in the Nautical Archaeology world and we can now reveal…

Jeremy Hunt held at least one unrecorded meeting with Lord Lingfield during the public consultation over the future of HMS Victory when Hunt was supposed to be acting impartially and did not meet with other expert groups.

Lord Lingfield and his two fellow trustees in the Maritime Heritage Foundation have no previous knowledge, experience, or known interest in maritime archaeology, neither do they have the funds to undertake the phenomenally expensive task of excavating and conserving such a historic wreck, yet they have been gifted one of our most important historic ships by Jeremy Hunt and Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond.

In February a senior official at English Heritage told the Ministry of Defence that the Maritime Heritage Foundation was ignorant of even the most basic archaeological practice and legislation and was not competent to enter into contracts with service providers such as Odyssey.

The Ministry of Defence lied when it said no other group was interested in looking after the HMS Victory site. At least one expert organisation, the charity ProMare, did make such an offer and said it would do it for nothing- it is just that the MOD never bothered to reply for thirteen months while it stitched up the deal with Odyssey and its front the Maritime Heritage Foundation.

The MOD admits in private e-mails that public relations for the HMS Victory 1744 project are being run entirely by Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. Mortimer has discovered that the Maritime Heritage Foundation and Odyssey share the same UK Press Officer, Rebecca Blackwood of the Brunswick Group.

Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc believes it can pay for its work through the sale of objects “de-accessioned” by the Maritime Heritage Foundation. i.e by selling objects which belong to the descendants of the men lost on the Victory and to the British people. An act which would be contrary to previous UK Government Policy under the annex to the UNESCO Convention for the protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

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