A New Sunken Trea­sure: The Mod­ern Value of Ship­wrecks to Caribbean Busi­ness


Ship­wrecks have the power to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion like few other pieces of his­tory. Old ships, ly­ing at the bot­tom of the sea, that are to­day sailed over by newer ves­sels, ca­reen­ing over the wa­ters where the fallen found their end. The wrecks may re­side down deep, un­mov­ing and of­ten un­touched, but they are not for­got­ten, and are so of­ten the source of pas­sion­ate in­ter­est: the his­to­ri­ans who re­search their sto­ries, trea­sure hunters who seek their riches, and even div­ing groups who want to see in the depths some­thing from our world top­side that once crested along the waves.

For many years ship­wrecks held in­ter­est but en­gage­ment with them was limited by the ex­ist­ing tech­nol­ogy. Now, in an era of dig­i­tal and global econ­omy, there is a to­tally new dy­namic when it comes to the world of ship­wrecks. New gadgets, new com­mu­ni­ca­tions, new fi­nanc­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and, ul­ti­mately, a whole new era in which the world above can en­gage with what lies below.

So what is the state of the ship­wreck com­mu­nity to­day? And how may Caribbean busi­nesses max­imise their op­por­tu­ni­ties in this space? Let’s look now in depth.


As dis­cussed pre­vi­ously in The STAR Businessweek, the Caribbean has not only ben­e­fit­ted from the emer­gence of ad­vances in mar­itime tech­nol­ogy on Earth, but also satel­lite tech­nol­ogy from above.

Be­fore his death in 2004, the work of Amer­i­can NASA as­tro­naut Gor­don Cooper, in map­ping Caribbean wa­ters while he was in or­bit, was ul­ti­mately cred­ited with the dis­cov­ery of a ship­wreck off the Ba­hamas in the mid­dle of this year. This event was a vivid rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the ac­cu­racy, pre­ci­sion and ad­vances of tech­nol­ogy seen within the world of im­agery, satel­lite tech­nol­ogy and map­ping.

As an as­tro­naut, Cooper had ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy that would be elu­sive to those of us on Earth. But even to­day, arm­chair ex­plor­ers sit at home and use Google Earth as they seek to find, in a hint across the waves shown via dig­i­tal im­agery, what may lie be­neath.

De­spite the trite idea of this pop­u­lar hobby, real dis­cov­er­ies have been found around the world in all sorts of ar­eas, thanks to am­a­teuer sleuths. So, too, the dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ties that have popped up around them, en­sur­ing that pro­duc­tive and proac­tive dis­cus­sion of ship­wrecks is no longer con­fined to an an­nual con­ven­tion at a lo­cal con­fer­ence cen­tre, but in­stead can be done per­pet­u­ally and glob­ally.


While there is much prom­ise in this space, the many com­pli­ca­tions that are also in­volved when it comes to ship­wrecks to­day, need to be rec­og­nized. These are seen across many facets of the com­mu­nity.

Un­ques­tion­ably, it is ter­rific for ship hunters to dis­cover a ship­wreck that has been long lost, es­pe­cially if it comes with the prom­ise of new riches, whether owed to the ship’s on­board trea­sure or sim­ply the pres­tige and me­dia cov­er­age that can come with hav­ing found a his­toric relic. Yet this clear run through to great for­tunes from the seafloor re­ally only comes in the ab­sence of a com­pet­ing claim to the ship­wreck. Un­sur­pris­ingly, this hap­pens for ships of value.

Af­ter all, just be­cause some­one has lost some­thing, that doesn’t mean that it is, by de­fault, the prop­erty of an­other, once found. Many gov­ern­ments may give a cur­sory pat on the back to those who find a ship long lost from the ports, but then ul­ti­mately they lay claim to the ship. Even the most well-funded trea­sure hunters can quickly find them­selves fun­da­men­tally out­paced in le­gal fire­power by a sov­er­eign gov­ern­ment mak­ing its claim.


It is also in the area of fund­ing that we have seen the more con­tentious el­e­ments of the crypto world on full pa­rade.

Un­der­stand­ably, the busi­ness model that says to would-be crypto in­vestors, “In­vest in our ship­wreck crypto now, and then when we find sunken riches, you’ll be re­warded!” ap­peals to many, doubt­less en­ticed by not only the prospect of fi­nan­cial re­turns, but the ex­cite­ment and ro­mance of the ad­ven­ture.

Some­times there have even been claims that the en­ter­prise knows where a ship is, and its value, and just needs an ini­tial up­front round of fund­ing to or­gan­ise a re­cov­ery. The fall­out from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Shin­jin Group—a South Korean crypto venture that al­leged it had found a sunken war­ship, be­fore it was re­vealed to be a scam op­er­a­tion— was il­lus­tra­tive of the down­side of a new dig­i­tal po­ten­tial in this arena.

While the rise of the dig­i­tal econ­omy and our global reach in com­mu­ni­ca­tions has made the world smaller (and so of­ten for the bet­ter when it comes to re­search­ing and re­cov­er­ing ship­wrecks), it’s also given rise to the po­ten­tial for new ex­ploita­tion and scams. This is not con­fined to ship­wrecks but it does mean that its lure, even as a source of ‘fool’s gold’, can be pack­aged in a way that is very de­cep­tive.


For as­pir­ing Caribbean busi­nesses the ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy rep­re­sent a new op­por­tu­nity here. While the re­gion’s long­stand­ing links to pirate his­tory— most no­tably seen in re­cent years with the suc­cess of the block­buster Pi­rates of the Caribbean fran­chise—show there is cer­tainly a mar­ketabil­ity here, it is also an era that is ripe for a new form of busi­ness.

En­cour­ag­ing the se­ri­ous en­deav­ours in this space, such as de­voted ex­plor­ers and re­searchers, needs to rec­on­cile with the real­ity that there is a new mo­men­tum in this com­mu­nity ow­ing to the power and pos­si­bil­i­ties of emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy.

While am­at­uer sleuths may chiefly sit at home search­ing Google Earth for a ship­wreck, en­tic­ing them to the re­gion for an an­nual event where they can sail the wa­ters of ship­wreck val­leys for real, of­fers a great po­ten­tial growth av­enue.

Even if lo­cal en­trepreneurs wanted to, ap­ply­ing a hard and fast rule to the mer­its of a par­tic­u­lar tech­nol­ogy would be hard; the scan­dal of the Shin­jin Group showed the po­ten­tial for abuses. Just the same, if in fu­ture there was a new busi­ness in this space, en­trepreneurs may find that ac­quir­ing fund­ing from in­vestors could be dif­fi­cult via tra­di­tional chan­nels such as banks. Seek­ing it via non-tra­di­tional fi­nanc­ing chan­nels, like a crypto Ini­tial Coin Of­fer­ing (ICO), could of­fer a path.

Should these en­ter­pris­ing ship­wreck en­thu­si­asts have le­git­i­mate ex­per­tise, de­cry­ing all ship­wreck ICOs by de­fault would be wrong. What is cer­tain is that the Caribbean’s his­tory, coastal fea­tures and strong sup­port­ing in­dus­tries (chiefly in bank­ing and tourism) make it a nat­u­ral do­main to en­tice the ship­wreck com­mu­nity to build here.


Ul­ti­mately, the most ex­cit­ing con­sid­er­a­tion of the fu­ture po­ten­tial of the ship­wreck com­mu­nity and its busi­ness op­er­a­tions in the re­gion is the abil­ity for lo­cal en­trepreneurs to pro­ject glob­ally.

With an es­ti­mated 3 mil­lion ship­wrecks lo­cated around the world—and around less than 1% of them hav­ing be­ing ex­plored— lo­cal ex­per­tise and busi­nesses built here could find a cus­tomer base not only lo­cally, but glob­ally. That’s why lo­cal en­trepreneurs who seek a new en­gage­ment with the ship­wreck com­mu­nity must recog­nise that em­brac­ing the fu­ture with pre­ci­sion is the best way to de­rive new value from the past, on land and in wa­ter.

The Lesleen M ship­wreck off the coast of Soufriere, Saint Lu­cia. Sunk in 1985, the wreck acts as an ar­ti­fi­cial reef to sup­port the un­der­wa­ter ecosys­tem while dou­bling as a tourism at­trac­tion for divers

The Daini Koy­omaru wreck, lo­cated one mile fur­ther off­shore from the Lesleen M wreck, is a Ja­panese dredger that was sunk in 1996 in close prox­im­ity to an ex­ist­ing reef patch in hopes of spurring fur­ther reef growth while also act­ing as a dive site for ad­vanced scuba divers

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