Florida Keys News
Monday, December 23, 2013
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Salvors lay claim to mystery shipwreck found off Key West

More facts are slowly emerging in the mystery of an ancient, unidentified sailing vessel discovered last year in 300 feet of international waters off Key West.

A group of investors called Kahar LLC filed legal paperwork Dec. 13 in federal court in Key West, asking the court to grant them sole title to the wreck as no one else has emerged to lay claim to the vessel.

The court has yet to grant title but it appears it's full steam ahead for Kahar as its legal announcement of the find -- called an In Rem claim in federal admiralty law parlance -- as well as their public announcement published as a paid advertisement in the Oct. 7 edition of The Citizen have both gone unchallenged.

In other words, finders keepers; for now, anyway.

Should the abandoned vessel yield treasure, more claimants may emerge, but as it stands now, Kahar will likely continue to be the sole salvor to the wreck.

A "relic" recovered from the ship is now in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and indicates that the ship is "an ancient sailing vessel," said Hugh Morgan, the Key West lawyer representing Kahar.

Morgan said he couldn't elaborate on what the relic is and whether the vessel is a Spanish galleon, as those parts of the salvage are either still under investigation or remain secret. Morgan previously told The Citizen that salvors have found what appear to be cannonballs on the ocean floor.

Kahar seeks the "abandoned sailing vessel, her tackle and armament, apparel, furniture and cargo," according to court documents.

Currently, the salvage does appear to be more of a historical and archeological undertaking rather than a treasure hunt, but Morgan didn't rule out the possibility of riches yet to be found.

The group is using submarines as the water is too deep to safely dive, Morgan said.

The famous Nuestra Señora de Atocha and her sister vessel, the Santa Margarita -- both discovered by Mel Fisher more than two decades ago in waters west of Key West -- were both Spanish galleons that sank in a 1622 hurricane.

Those galleons were part of a flotilla called the Tierra Firme (mainland) Fleet that were carrying gold, silver, emeralds, tobacco, copper and other riches from Spanish ports at Cartagena and Porto Bello in Colombia and Panama bound for Spain.

The Kahar ship's cargo may help identify it, which would make the manifest easier to find and, in turn, give salvors a clearer picture of what they are looking for. Spain kept good records of her treasure fleets and those records remain available for review by salvors.

Kahar is composed of President Robert Lee Harlan of Littleton, Colo., Vice President Edward Krajewski of Jamison, Pa., Secretary Tom Harlon, also of Littleton, and Joseph Krajewski, also of Jamison, according to Florida Division of Corporations records.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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