Fri. May 31st, 2024

British treasure hunter who raised silver bars worth £32m told: ‘Finders aren’t keepers’

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May23,2024

British treasure hunter Ross Hyett, who raised £32 million from an Indian Ocean shipwreck in a complex operation, has been told he is not permitted to claim salvage rights.

The 70-year-old former racing driver and founder of London-based Argentum Exploration spearheaded a mission to raise 2,364 bars of silver from the SS Tilawa, at the foot of the ocean at a depth of 1.5 miles.

The vessel, belonging to the British Steam Navigation Company, sunk after being hit by a torpedo launched by a submarine in 1942. A total of 281 passengers and crew died.

However, yesterday the UK’s ruled South Africa had “sovereign immunity” from Mr Hyett’s legal claim for salvage rights.

The court revealed a deal has nevertheless been struck between both parties last month, without providing any details.

Lord Lloyd-Jones and Lord Hamblen said the silver was not intended for “commercial use” and was therefore covered by the 1978 State Immunity Act.

Jonathan Goulding, a solicitor at the London law firm HFW, advisers to the South African government, told The Times the decision would have international significance.

He explained: “As we continue to learn more about the ocean sea bed, many more historic wrecks have already been targeted by salvors for the potentially valuable cargo that they carry, and many more will be discovered in time.

“In light of this ruling, anyone hoping to recover valuable lost cargo and bring it to the UK to claim ownership of it will first need to take steps to identify the original owner and make contractual agreements with them to salvage cargo before attempting to do so.”

Mr Goulding continued: “In short, the court has firmly sent a message to those hoping to find and claim ownership of lost treasure that finders are not always keepers.”

After being identified in December 2014, recovery work on the SS Tilawa began in January 2017.

The silver was initially transported to Southampton and declared to the Receiver of Wreck, which oversees salvage law.

Argentum sought a share of the value of the silver but the South African government claimed “sovereign” rights, meaning it was entitled to the bars without any requirement to pay salvage to Hyett.

Professor Robert Volterra, of international law firm Volterra Fietta, said the Supreme Court judgment underlined London’s status as a commercial, legal and diplomatic hub.

He explained: “The UK’s historical vigilance in upholding international law had seemingly been waning alarmingly, with a series of English court judgments that were significantly eroding the principles of state and diplomatic immunity.

“We are aware of a number of our government clients around the world beginning to draft ‘reciprocity’ state immunity legislative amendments, implicitly directed against the UK’s recent moves away from the orthodox approach.”

Argentum Exploration is owned by hedge fund manager Sir Paul Marshall, 64, who bankrolls GB News.

One insider said: “Argentum did everything by the book in bringing the silver back to the UK and registering the find, yet they have still lost out.

“A less scrupulous company would have simply taken it to another country and had it smelted and sold on. No one would have known where it came from.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “British treasure hunter who raised silver bars worth £32m told: ‘Finders aren’t keepers’”
  1. Does this mean that any valuable cargo found in shipwrecks does not belong to the finder? What are the implications for future salvage operations?

  2. It’s unfortunate that despite his efforts, Mr. Hyett couldn’t claim salvage rights for the silver bars. The ruling sets an interesting precedent for similar cases in the future, highlighting the complexities of maritime laws and sovereignty issues.

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