In this in rem action filed by Recovery Limited Partnership in this longstanding contest over salvage rights to the gold-laden wreck of the S.S. Central America, which sank off the coast of South Carolina in 1857, the Norfolk U.S. District Court grants RLP a salvage award of 100 percent of the fair market value of the items recovered in RLP’s 2014 recovery operations, but denies prejudgment interest; the court also grants RLP title to the artifacts recovered in the 2014 salvage operations, as the salvage award can only be satisfied by the a conveyance of title.
There is no doubt that RLP has established the three threshold requirements for a salvage award: a marine peril, voluntary rendering of the salvor’s services and success of the salvage efforts. RLP’s efforts have been successful in recovering approximately 16,000 artifacts from the wreck site in an archaeologically sensitive manner.
The court must make a rough approximation of the value of the salvaged property. In assessing the reliability of the appraisals, the court notes the significant experience of the appraisers, who testified in detail at the evidentiary hearing about their processes and conclusions. The court considers their valuation methods to be sound and reliable, while recognizing the difficulty associated with valuing the recovered items and the fluctuating market not only for gold and silver, but for the artifacts. The court finds $48,215,425 to be an appropriate approximation of the fair market value of all the items – gold and artifacts – recovered during RLP’s 2014 salvage operations.
The court further finds that RLP’s data collection, preservation and conservation efforts with regard to the wreck of the S.S. Central America, and the items salved, weigh strongly in RLP’s favor in determining the salvage award. The court finds RLP is entitled to a salvage award of 100 percent of the fair market value of the items recovered in the 2014 operations.
A judicial sale would be inadequate to fully reward RLP for its salvage efforts. The appraised fair market values accepted by this court assumed these rare items would be marketed to appropriate buyers, through experienced auction houses and numismatic dealers, and that the historic provenance of the items would be promoted. The separate categories of artifacts and gold appeal to different audiences that do not necessarily overlap, and the court agrees that the items need to be marketed individually. The U.S. Marshal is simply not properly equipped with the necessary resources and expertise to perform the necessary pre-sale processes. RLP and its team of experts are experienced with the conservation and marketing efforts required, and understand the appropriate sales channels for the artifacts and gold. Given the additional curation, grading and marketing necessary to obtain the fair market value of the salvaged items, the court finds that a judicial sale would be inadequate to pay RLP its full salvage award.
The court grants RLP title to the items salvaged in the 2014 recovery operations, as listed in the inventories filed with the court.
Recovery Ltd. Partnership v. The Wrecked & Abandoned Vessel S.S. Central America (Smith) No. 2:87cv363, Aug. 31, 2016; USDC at Norfolk, Va.; James L. Chapman IV for plaintiff. VLW 016-3-419, 33 pp.