Meson Capital Partners LLC, headed by Ryan Morris, has been shorting Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc (NASDAQ:OMEX) since the end of October last year, and it looks like the hedge fund has a new claim to investigate. OMEX says that it brought up nearly 1,000 ounces of gold during a preliminary dive to the wreck site of the SS Central America, and OMEX thinks there could be another $86 million left to be salvaged, reports Liezel Hill for Bloomberg.
“Gold ingots and other artifacts were clearly visible on the surface of the site during the dive and no excavation was required for their removal,” the company said in a statement.
Odyssey Marine Exploration: Original salvager now a federal fugitive
Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc (NASDAQ:OMEX) isn’t the first company to try to retrieve gold from the wreck site. Previous operations between 1989 and 1991 pulled in two tons of gold after the Columbus-America Discovery Group found the ship that had been lost since 1857. Their haul was worth more than $100 million, but it led to claims from a number of insurance companies who had paid damages when the ship originally sunk. Columbus-America was eventually awarded the bulk of the gold.
But Columbus-America head Tommy Thompson allegedly never paid his crew more than $2 million he owed them and never sent his investors a dime. He is now a federal fugitive and his former company has been put into receivership. Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc (NASDAQ:OMEX) became involved when the court-appointed receiver Ira Owen Kane offered OMEX a large percentage of whatever remaining salvage it can find to complete the project.
SS Central America salvage is a setback to Meson Capital short
Meson Capital’s short thesis is largely based on the argument that Neptune Minerals Inc, which Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc (NASDAQ:OMEX) claimed as $108 million in off balance sheet value, is actually insolvent with cumulative losses of $49 million and $25 million in losses in 2013 alone. Meson Capital also says that many of the shipwrecks that OMEX is likely to salvage were blockade runners carrying Nazi war loot that OMEX won’t be able to hold onto.
The SS Central America salvage is a different matter entirely. Since Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc (NASDAQ:OMEX) got the job from the court appointed receiver and insurance companies have already fought for their share of the gold, there shouldn’t be any outstanding legal challenges. Also, it’s known that the original operation didn’t recover all of the gold that the ship originally carried (though how much is recovered is still an open question). IF OMEX’s estimate is accurate, it will be a big strike against the Meson Capital short.