Page last updated at 10:04 GMT, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Salvagers want to raise Victory

Cannon on seabed
One of the cannon bearing the royal crest of King George I

An American salvage company hopes it will be allowed to raise the wreck of the HMS Victory, which lies off Alderney in the English Channel.

Greg Stemm, Odyssey Marine Exploration chief executive officer, said there is currently a consultation with the UK government and other stakeholders.

He said: "Hopefully we'll come up with a way forward that includes the excavation of that site."

Two cannon were raised by the company which confirmed the ship's identity.

More than 1,000 sailors drowned when the British warship, the predecessor to Admiral Lord Nelson's Victory, sank in a storm in 1744.

The wreck, which could contain more than $1bn (£605m) of gold, was discovered at the bottom of the English Channel by Odyssey in May.

Mr Stemm said: "We've got a proposal that would have the entire site excavated, the entire collection conserved, educational materials developed and Odyssey would take the entire risk of putting that project together and funding that project."

But further salvage work is likely to only take place if the site can be shown to be under risk because the UK government has endorsed an annex of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Heritage which bans salvage, unless a site is under threat.

Mr Stemm said his company has surveyed a "large chunk" of the English Channel and are disappointed to have found shipwrecks in a "much, much worse condition than we ever anticipated".

Artist's impression of how HMS Victory may have looked
More than 1,000 sailors died when the Victory sank in 1744

He said his company normally operates at depths of 1,000 to 1,500 metres and often worked in depths of just 100 to 150 metres in the channel, but "nevertheless we were still surprised by the really bad shape that most of the shipwrecks are in" which he said is "a result of trawling".

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it will be discussing the issue with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

A spokesperson added: "We will be encouraging all those with an interest in UK naval heritage and underwater archaeology to contribute.

"There are a number of options open to us, ranging from preservation in situ to a full archaeological excavation, though it is fair to say that the latter would be very costly."

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