Today, the only existing treasure hunting activities perfomed by companies using investor's money are sea salvage operations. One reason are the relative precise information obtainable from written records. Another reason are the last decade's rapid advances in marine, diving and underwater detection technology, magnetometer technology in particular. In total, this facet of treasure hunting is suited best to conduct a business. Also, this sort of treasure searching is documented best since everything is official and information have to be given to investors.
Starting in the 1970s and 1980s several spectacular wrecks were found though not all of them carried precious cargo. Some examples:
The Spanish 17. century vessel Nuestra Senora de Antocha, found by Mel Fisher. The Titanic and the Bismark found by Ron Ballard. The Edinburgh with its golden cargo sunk by a German submarine in World War 2. The SS Central America with its rich gold cargo found by Tommy Thompson in the 1990s. Franck Goddio's discovery of sunken chinese vessels loaded with porcelain.
All these wrecks were located in the last two or three decades. Many more will follow in the next decades.
The advantage of wreck search, as hinted above, lies in the precise information about the cargo and thus the expected finds as well as about the find spot. „Precise information“ and „best suited for business“ are of course relative terms. In the best cases it means that after tedious archive research – and professional treasure hunting companies always employ good researchers - a vessel with precious cargo was identified and at least a vague position was obtained. In lucky cases this information can be derived from archives of insurances, courts, or marine institutions. The most famous maritime archive is the „Archivo General de Indias“ in Seville, Spain, where all information concerning the Spanish fleet are stored. Of particular interest are, of course, the sunken Spanish galleons fully loaded with South American precious metals. Often enough these galleons fell victims to hurricanes in the Caribbean. On the other hand the sunken ships of the „Spanish Main“ always have been the favourite of US treasure divers just as Central and South America was always the favourite playground for US treasure hunters. As so often, I recommend to get away from the mainstream and look for less spectacular but findable treasure.
Deep ocean searches are usually extremely expensive. Millions of dollars have to be invested before there is even a chance of finding something. Countless times the target indicated by the magnetometer – usually a wreck is found by detecting its iron remains - or by the side scan sonar – where sediments did not cover the wreck - turns out to be some junk or some other wreck. Maybe one of 1000 wrecks contain valuable cargo.
If precious cargo is finally recovered the next step are the court suits. One of the fundamental laws of treasure hunting say that whenever something valuable is recovered people try to claim it no matter how little substance this claim has. This law applies to all sorts of treasure hunting but is especially valid in ocean salvage as the finds will be made known to the public. Experience shows that the human fantasy knows no limits if it comes to explain why one is entitled to found treasure though one did not participate in the search. This applies to individuals, companies, authorities, and governments. This observation is so general that it became a treasure hunter law „Money creates greed“. At least the successful ocean treasure hunter has to expect claims from all insurances who ever paid a single cent as well as from descendants of the people who lost property or died when the ship sank.
The good news are that when all cases are closed the treasure hunter can keep a nice share of his finds if he acted clever. Tommy Thompson became a rich man who, as far I know, did not change and will always remain a searcher.
Since ocean salvage is such a cost intensive operation it usually cannot be done by private searchers. Thus further details are not within the scope of this website.