Mike on America

Odyssey "Pirating" A Business Success


Sure it's exciting to find $500 million dollars in a ship wreck somewhere in the Atlantic---but can you build a business on it? Yes. And in fact, they already have a business.

Double Eagle gold coin recovered from underwater wreck

'They' are the folks at Odyssey Marine Exploration in Tampa, Florida. Headquartered in a non-descript office park building (at least the trim is sort of ocean blue) near the Tampa International Airport. Odyssey is the outfit that made all those headlines recently--the $500 million (that's someone else's estimate by the way, not theirs) in silver coins that date back to pirate days, the 'mysterious' location somewhere off Spain, or is it the UK ? (they're not saying yet for good reason), the 17 tons of white 'buckets' filled with 'booty' (not going there) or is it 'bounty'?

Long story short--it's all very exciting, but it's what this publicly traded company (on Amex) does--find ship wrecks and the 'treasures'--either in monetary or archeological terms--that go with them. They are better at it than anyone else, and while the 'Black Swan' ,as the most current wreck is code named, is the biggest haul to date, it's not their first wreck salvaged, and it won't be their last.

They are a fascinating bunch--the guy honchoing the actual operations team is the same man who found the Titanic. Yes, that Titanic. One of the Sr. V.P.'s doesn't need the job. Literally. He built and sold three different companies--has all the money he needs, but is doing this for the adventure, the love of exploration.

And while they are remarkably 'scientific' about their search and recovery methods--it is the archeological finds, preservation, display and marketing that keep the headquarters people busy, and the money coming in, while the operations folks are at sea for up to three months at a time finding what they've been sent out for.

Jewelry out of glass shards from ship wrecks, bottles, replicas of religious figurines, deals for the film and book rights, traveling shows and permanent exhibitions--all of it plays at the multiple revenue streams that are flooding in to Odyssey.

Their newest attraction (they had originally planned a full time museum in New Orleans--it 'opened' two days before Katrina hit) will be at the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry. It opens on June 22 and will run through January of 2008. They plan to announce a permanent 'home' for their first museum soon--and yes--will be letting everyone know where the 'Black Swan' really is---and which ship it is--when they're ready.

But of all the material I touched and looked at in their research and preservation facility--the simplest was perhaps the most rewarding.

A comb. A black, rubber, comb. Made by Goodyear. Dating to the late 19th early 20th century. Someone's comb. A person from another time and place. Found at the bottom of the ocean.

X marks the spot.

Questions?  Comments?  mikeonamerica@nbcuni.com