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Friday, November 7, 1997 Published at 15:59 GMT


What happens if you discover treasure

As a treasure trove found off the coast of Devon goes on show for the first time, the Coastguard Agency has urged all treasure hunters to come forward and report their finds.

The official 'Receiver of the Wreck', Veronica Robbins, says she is considering an amnesty for people who did not declare found treasures.

Even if the finder is the owner, all wreck must be reported to the Receiver of the Wreck, who is responsible for dealing with wreck and salvage.

Operating on behalf of the Department of Transport, the Receiver works within the Coastguard Agency. If you find a wreck, contact the Receiver of Wreck or your local Coastguard station.

What is Wreck?

Wreck is flotsam, jetsam, derelict and lagan found in or on the shores of the sea or any tidal water. It can be a ship, aircraft, or hovercraft, their cargo or equipment. It may be of antique or archaeological value such as gold coins, or items such as drums of chemicals or crates of foodstuffs.

Flotsam... are goods lost from a ship which has sunk or otherwise perished which remained afloat.
Jetsam... are goods cast overboard by vessels which were in danger of sinking.
Derelict... are vessels or cargo, which were abandoned at sea without any hope of recovering it.
Lagan... are goods cast overboard from a ship which afterwards perishes, buoyed so as make them recoverable.

Owners have a year and a day to come forward and prove that it is their property.

Can you keep your find?

Unclaimed wreck from UK waters becomes the property of the Crown. The Receiver of Wreck will dispose of it through sale or auction, in which case the finder gets the money.

In most cases, though, the finder will be allowed to keep items of an unclaimed wreck as a salvage award.

But if the wreck is more than 100 years old it is classified as a historic wreck.

Normally, the Coastguard Agency will offer items of historic wrecks to institutions such as museums close to the site of the find, so that they are accessible to the public. The finder's wishes are normally taken into consideration.

In cases like the Devon treasure, the finder will be given the cash equivalent of the value of the wreck.

Treasure found on land

Treasure found on land is governed by The Treasure Act which came into force in September 1997.

If you find treasure you are legally obliged to report it to your local police station within 14 days. The police will pass it on to the coroner who will decide whether it is defined as treasure.

There is a reward system in place to encourage you to report your findings, provided you were not trespassing when you found the treasure!

If a museum wants to acquire your treasure, you will probably be given the market value price. If no museum wants it, you may be entitled to keep it.

How is treasure defined?

The definition of treasure falls into four categories: coins that are older that 300 years old; other objects that contain at least 10% gold or silver and are at least 300 years old; associated objects that are found in the same place as treasure; and other objects containing substantial amounts of gold and silver whose owners cannot be traced.

Who is eligible for rewards?

If a museum wants to acquire the treasure, an independent valuation committee will value the treasure, to determine the reward paid to the finder.

  • Where the finder has permission to be on the land, rewards are paid in full.
  • If the finder makes an agreement with the occupier or landowner to share a reward, the government will be prepared to follow the terms of the agreement.
  • A finder who has been trespassing may expect a reduced award or none at all. Landowners and occupiers will be eligible for rewards when this happens.
  • Archaeologists will not normally be eligible for rewards.

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