Govt seeking to cash in on shipwrecks
Government could lay claim to a billion-dollar shipwreck industry, with an amendment to the Abandoned Wreck Act that sources claim could erase the nation’s sovereign debt and stop millions of dollars from leaving the country yearly in illegal salvages.
Acknowledging fears of the nation becoming a new”wild, wild, west”, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Charles Maynard confirmed toGuardian Businessyesterday that recent studies done by experts in Florida estimate the total value of wrecks lying beneath Bahamian waters to exceed hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s no small appraisal, given it comes from the team of experts who were instrumental in forming the legislation in Florida.
“We are being told it could be a billion-dollar industry if properly policed and managed,”he said.”A lot of people have been trying to present any number of scenarios to us, but we are confident with the Florida experts’estimations.
“We definitely believe that the amount out there in terms of wreckages is significant, and we do have faith that there are literally hundreds of wreckages.”
While there is currently a moratorium on salvages here in The Bahamas and the granting of licenses, a source close to the industry toldGuardian Businessyesterday that pirates are still coming into the waters and robbing the nation of millions of dollars in revenue. It’s especially disappointing, said the insider, because the money could go towards recouping government revenue loss in a recession.
Artifacts fished from wrecks in Bahamian waters, said the source, continue to appear in museums all over the world, without the government being awarded a penny from the salvage.
Maynard said the government is now trying to crack down on these occurrences.
“There have been instances reported of illegal salvages with findings, and people carrying them out of the country and any number of items registering in museums around the world that we know came from out of our waters,”he said.”This is nothing new and[it’s]something we are fully aware of.
“It’s the daily job of the Royal Bahamas Police Force to police the waters and catch anyone who is doing this.”
A lack of policy and regulations has seen The Bahamas miss out on many opportunities in the past. The situation has sparked the need for ammendments to the relevant legislation.
Maynard said the ammendment was now at the Attorney General’s Office and would be introduced later this year. He asserts the importance of the legislation to the country’s culture–not to mention revenue collection–was not lost on the government.
“The government will get revenue from fees from people getting licensed right off the top,”he added.”With items recovered, there is a percentage of spoils to be shared. But for us it’s also important at the end of the day that we protect these historical sites because these are antiquities-based.
“At the same time we don’t want to start a wild, wild west scenario where everyone is looking for gold. It’s not just an economic generator. We want ensure we protect the marine life and not destroy these sites… because even after there is a recovery, the site in of itself is valuable.”