Call ends treasure hunt Posted
Call ends treasure hunt
Salvors’ employer alerts authorities
Posted-Friday, April 30, 2004 4:12 PM EDT
Four men, including two crewmen working on Amelia
Research’s recovery vessel Polly L, were cited Dec. 17 with a federal violation
of illegally searching for artifacts of antiquity.
By Kevin Wadlow
Treasure salvors working on a permitted search apparently went on a rogue
expedition into a no-trespass area of the Marquesas last week, say state and
federal marine officials.
"They were chasing a fairy tale," said Douglas Pope, president of Amelia
Research and Recovery. "I guess they got gold fever."
Several boating-violation charges also were lodged. Additional federal counts
for damaging protected resources of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge are
pending further investigation.
Officials of Amelia Research alerted authorities to an unsanctioned treasure
hunt onto a marshy island in the Marquesas, and cooperated with the
Darryl Cunningham, 41, of Fort Pierce, who had been
employed as captain of the Polly L, was among those charged, along with a mate.
Both were immediately fired by Amelia, said Pope.
"They were using our vessel and were about seven miles from where they were
supposed to be," said Pope. "They had no reason to be there. We’re an
environmentally conscious company that, to my knowledge, has never violated a
rule or made a mistake."
The four suspects – Marion Self, 46, of Fortson, Ga.; Carl Helwig, 74, of
Slidell, La.; and Louis Lund, 51, of Vero Beach, plus Cunningham – used a small
boat to leave the Polly L and head into the Marquesas.
"Legend has it a campsite was established [in the
Marquesas] as a work base during efforts to salvage the Spanish fleet wrecked in
the  storm and that the site still contains treasure and historical
artifacts," said Lt. Kim Dipre of the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Salvors who have worked in the Marquesas say the lost-campsite tale is
well-known, and scoff at the chances of locating lost riches in an area that has
been searched for hundreds of years before it was protected as a wildlife
"They saw an opportunity to use our boat to get close and go off on their own,"
said Pope. "I think that now, they all wish they hadn’t done it."
The crew of the FWC patrol boat Point Monroe spent hours
searching the islands for signs of illegal dredging before the suspects finally
identified the spot. Officers found pumps, scuba gear, buoys and planks thrown
down for walking.
Working the case were Lt. Joseph Scarpa and Lt. Andy Cox, with Officers Charles
Mallow, Kevin Mehegan and Hank Forehand.
The Polly L was working under a subcontract with a Mel Fisher company that holds
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary permits to search a specific area for
portions of the Santa Margarita wreck. Fisher’s company raised artifacts and
treasure from part of the Margarita found in 1980.
"This is the kind of cooperation we like to see from those who hold
submerged-cultural-resources permits," said sanctuary Superintendent Billy
Causey. "These sites are a non-renewable resource. Once they’re disturbed
without proper oversight, all historical context is lost."
Pope said his company is committed to proper recovery techniques. "Anyone who’s
been out to that island knows there is absolutely no amount of treasure worth
disturbing that environment," he said.
Amelia Research & Recovery, LLC