For Odyssey Marine, (NASDAQ:OMEX), the summer of 2013 is shaping up to be one of big opportunities and they have made some important progress since I wrote about them in March. As you read this, the Seabed Worker, the same deep-water recovery ship that Odyssey leased last year to recover 1218 bars of silver from the Gairsoppa, is on its way to the site preparing to return to the depths and recover an estimated 1599 additional bars. According to war documents, this would be the remaining part of the insured cargo of silver. Other records indicate there may be a large amount of uninsured silver on board as well. If successful, the Seabed Worker will then head 100 miles away and try to recover an estimated 600,000 ounces of silver from the Mantola, a British steamer sunk during World War I.
Optimists will note that in the case of the 1218 bars recovered from the Gairsoppa last year, the serial numbers on the bars matched those on three of the lists of insured silver but did not complete any of the lists and no bars from a fourth group of serial numbers were found at all. Further, in the company's latest quarterly, Odyssey stated they have new information that should help pinpoint which areas of both ships the silver is likely to be found. Could this be some of the first useful information to be gleaned from the cache of historical records that Odyssey purchased last year and that President Mark Gordon mentioned in his presentation to the Craig-Hallum Group last September? One would think so. Pessimists would point out however, that in addition to the falling prices for silver, gold and other commodities, searchers have already scoured 70% of the Gairsoppa and came up empty for the remainder of the silver and they had a number of days on the Mantola last summer and came up empty there as well. Worth mentioning is that, if time permits, Odyssey will begin work on its commodity wreck program. Four wrecks are currently under salvage contract and Odyssey stands to gain 90% of any salvaged cargo that is recovered.
The next project tentatively on the table for this summer would be the beginning of the excavation of HMS Victory, the famed British first-rater sunk during a storm in 1744. Odyssey located the wreck in 2008 nearly 100 km from where it was reported to have sunk. Gaining approval has been a slow, tortuous path and the most recent step on this journey was to agree with the Maritime Heritage Foundation to a set of "Key Management Principles . . . that proper archaeological principles will be adhered to through the course of the project." This path can be fraught with danger because as with any warship, the law of sovereign immunity dictates that a country never loses control of its warship despite being sunk. Odyssey found this out the hard way when it recovered $500 million of coins from the wreck of the frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes and subsequently lost it to Spain which is why they are treading so carefully now.
Action on the Victory excavation is pending final approval by the U.K. Ministry of Defense and has been debated for months in Parliament as a precursor to said approval. The swaying factor appears to be the on-going site damage caused by trawler nets, strong currents and looters. To be sure, there is the possibility of a large amount of gold rumored to be on board but there is also a tricky path that will need to be followed to be reimbursed for historical, cultural and nautical items, while at the same time ensuring that these items are kept and safeguarded for the British people. To me, the biggest potential in the Victory lies not with gold but a world-class opportunity to showcase that Odyssey can provide valuable underwater archeology and add to the world's knowledge before some of it is lost forever.
If that's not enough for one summer, Odyssey has other projects bubbling beneath the surface including their underwater mining operations. The closest to fruition is their participation with the New Zealand company Chatham Rock Phosphate (CRP.NZ), a company with the ambitious project of mining rock phosphate from the seafloor 280 miles off the shore of New Zealand. Recent progress there includes the announcement that the company's application to begin undersea mining will be the first to be considered by the new "Exclusive Economic Zone legislation," and that Chatham expects to "work through the submission and hearing process during the second half of 2013 with an aim to receiving approval by the end of this year." According to the Edison Group, the progress that Chatham has made thus far has created an unrisked value in Chaham's stock at NZ$2.00 per share, compared to its trading price of NZ.35. As events continue to develop, Edison believes Chatham's stock price will close the gap between this value and its trading price. This is important to Odyssey because they have 9.3 million shares of Chatham and have agreed to "provide additional seafloor geotechnical survey services" in 2013. The agreement doesn't say if Odyssey will be paid in cash, shares or a combination of both.
Finally, Odyssey disclosed in February that they had acquired a majority ownership in another undersea mining company called Oceanica Resources and had negotiated a sale of 15 million shares to Mako Resources, LLC for $15 million with an option to buy another 15 million at $2.50 a share by Dec. 31, 2013. In the last few months, initial core drilling samples have been completed and preliminary assay results indicate the resource could be significant. Odyssey owns 62.6 million shares of Oceanica and carries the value for it on their books at zero, so an announcement of a sizable and economically feasible resource could put a substantial value on an asset that currently does not add to share price.
With the many opportunities this summer for Odyssey to create value also comes the opportunity to make mistakes. Having an ambitious schedule invites overreaching and leaving a lot on the table as we witnessed last summer. Timing and weather are always unpredictable as well as other variables such as the inexperienced replacement crew that went aboard the Seabed Worker last summer. And even if Odyssey finds success, commodity prices could continue their downward slide. Finally, if and when permission is granted on the Victory project it will be just that - a project and not a quick recovery and sale. It will likely take years to finalize, not to mention any monetization of items that are recovered. Odyssey will need to do what's right on the historical side of the recovery, proving in what will be the chance of a lifetime, that there is more than one kind of treasure that can be brought up from the depths of the sea.
Disclosure: I am long OMEX. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.