(CN) – A British researcher can sue the treasure-hunting company that allegedly tried to block him from staking a claim to its discovery of a rare ivory from elephant tusks in a sunken 17th century merchant vessel.
In 2001, Nevada-based Odyssey Marine Exploration hired Keith Bray to provide research and data concerning the location of the Merchant Royal, an English ship lost at sea in 1641 with thousands of pounds of gold and silver aboard.
Bray, a British researcher of sunken ships, claims his original oral contract ensured he would receive a percentage of any proceeds from the recovery of the Merchant Royal in exchange for his research file.
But after five years, Odyssey allegedly offered Bray $20,000 and told him it had called off the search, promising to keep him informed of any new developments. But Bray says the company not only continued its search, it made a stunning discovery in 2006 – one it may have originally thought was the wreckage of the Merchant Royal.
Odyssey initiated court proceedings in the Middle District of Florida to claim ownership of the site as various parties, including Spain, tried to stake a claim. According to Odyssey’s website, it filed in “the only court in the world which presently provides a mechanism for protecting shipwreck sites beyond any country’s territorial waters.”
Bray intervened as a plaintiff in that case, but a federal judge threw out the case when it became apparent that the site was not connected to the Merchant Royal. Odyssey calls the site 35-F, and says in company newsletters that the site contains “highly endangered material.”
The company said in 2010 that it recovered 58 artifacts from 35-F, “a mid-17th century armed merchant vessel lost in the Western Approaches with a rare cargo of elephant tusks and copper manilla bracelets, and heavily damaged by scallop dredges.” (Emphasis in original.)
“During a preliminary investigation of the site, Odyssey discovered a rare wooden folding carpenter’s rule – the oldest ever recovered from a shipwreck site,” another press release states. “The ruler was on display at the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford in the UK.”
On March 31, the 11th Circuit said Bray still has a triable claim to rescind his written contract and reinstate the oral contract, even without the underlying suit, because he and Odyssey entered into a maritime contract that should be heard in federal court.