Call ends treasure hunt   Posted  


Call ends treasure hunt

Posted-Friday, April 30, 2004 4:12 PM EDT

Salvors’ employer alerts authorities

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."


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.

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 investigation.

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 [1622] storm and that the site still contains treasure and historical artifacts," said Lt. Kim Dipre of the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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 refuge.

"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