Learning from the Past

Notre Dame de Deliverance

Around the time of the sinking of the Surveyor, Sub Sea’s other ship, the M/V Diamond, was stationed in Key West. At that time the crew was simultaneously working on two different shipwrecks, the Notre Dame de Deliverance and an unknown wreck nicknamed the “Dragonfly”. It was fairly common for Sub Sea to split their time between two wrecks when they could. Located off the coast of Key West, Florida, both wrecks seemed promising, but in the end it was legal battles that would cost them the ability to salvage.

In 1755, Spain was not able to send ships out because they were at war with England. During this period, Spain had other countries bring treasure and goods back from the New World. They sent a French ship, the Notre Dame de Deliverance, to America to bring back a hefty amount of cargo. The ship disappeared in the Caribbean, carrying a supposed inventory of: 1,170 pounds of gold bullion, 15,399 gold doubloons, 153 gold snuffboxes, a gold-hilted sword, a gold watch, over a million pieces of eight, 764 ounces of silver, 31 pounds of silver ore, six pairs of diamond earrings, a diamond ring, and an assortment of precious stones and cocoa, indigo and other various trade items.

The ship departed Havana on Halloween night, 1755, escorted by eight small vessels. The following day a hurricane swept through the Caribbean. The small escort vessels were able to reach safety, docking at the northwest side of the Marquesas, as blocked from the storm as they could be. What exactly happened to the Notre Dame de Deliverance is unknown, but at some point that night it perished. Spain was never reimbursed for the cargo, and so already the wreck stood on shaky ground in terms of legality.

Sub Sea recovered pieces of the wreck, including a few minor artifacts that were said to have been onboard at the time of the ship’s final trip. Unfortunately the ship was in deep water (>300ft) and the company’s deep sea recovery capabilities at that time were not as refined as they are now. They hired tech dive teams to go down and search for more evidence, but money was an issue and it wasn’t something they were able to fund full-time. During their recovery efforts, the US Justice Department caught wind of their project and contacted Spain. Spain was very interested in keeping all the money from the cargo, and so they filed a claim in an effort to protect what was once supposed to be theirs. Salvage laws are very complex and full of gray areas, and so the legal teams were to spend some time getting acquainted with these. Money became too much of an issue, and so Sub Sea backed off, though they never shared the location of the Notre Dame de Deliverance with Spain.

The Dragonfly Wreck never caused a legal battle, but it had to be abandoned also. The wreck was too deep, and the equipment needed would cost too much money. After their legal issues and the sinking of the Surveyor, it was too much of a struggle to continue on with that wreck in particular. The Dragonfly Wreck was believed to be a Civil War-era ship, from the artifacts brought up. It was nicknamed the “Dragonfly” because of an experience the crew had while at the site. Dozens upon dozens of dragonflies were swarming around the back deck of the Diamond when the crew was out working on the new wreck site. Interestingly enough, the same thing occurred when Sub Sea was out working on the Port Nicholson almost six years later.

In the present day, Sub Sea has the best legal standing they have ever had with their current project, the SS Port Nicholson. All of these obstacles have awarded them with more knowledge and determination than ever before.

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