Florida Treasure Hunters Search Ship for Four Tons of Gold

Florida deep-sea explorers said Monday they're still hoping to find 4 tons of gold thought to be in a recently discovered British shipwreck, but are just as pleased to be able to add a piece to the puzzle of Britain's cultural heritage.

Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration announced at a London news conference that it had discovered the wreck of the HMS Victory, a British man-of-war that sank in the English Channel in October 1744.

The company has recovered brass cannons and other artifacts, but so far none of the gold coins that are believed to have been on the ship when it went down.

"The theories that there is a valuable cargo, coins, on this go back from one source and only one source at this point," said Tom Dettweiler, a senior project manager for Odyssey, who was in London. "There's a lot of speculation about other potential sources of valuable cargo as well, but it is strictly nothing but speculation. That's not why we do this. We have to of course pay the bills, but this is a culturally important project — very important to the British heritage."

The location of the HMS Victory — the largest and most heavily armed ship of its day — was a mystery until Odyssey found it earlier this year, more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) away from where it was believed to have gone down in a storm.

The company is negotiating with the British Ministry of Defense over how to collaborate on the continuing excavation of the wreck and how proceeds will be shared.

Odyssey CEO Greg Stemm said he doesn't anticipate the kind of trouble with the British government that the company has with Spain, whose government is fighting Odyssey for the estimated $500 million in coins raised from the wreck of a Spanish galleon in 2007.

"I think there is always going to be controversy with something new," Stemm said. "I hope that it does not extend to the point where it is overly political and that people focus on the cultural importance of this discovery."