The Murder of World Famous Sunken Treasure Hunter Bo Kjaer-Olsen in the Republic of Panama
Thursday, July 08 2010 @ 01:28 PM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
The Docks in Pedregal, Republic of Panama
Diver and Treasure Hunter: Bo's passion was for scuba diving and searching for and recovering sunken treasure - really. Once I got the correct spelling of his last name it was easy to find more information about him on the Internet. For example, this article entitled "The Skeleton Holds Billions!"
- The Skeleton Holds Billions!
- By Carol L. Allen, B.A., M.A.
- In Bo Kjaer-Olsen's estimation, there are over 2000 sunken ships, from the 15th century to the early 1800's, which wrecked from the Skeleton Coast down to Cape Town, South Africa. All are laden with, specie (monies).
- Olsen says that this is one of the main graveyards for treasure ships in the world as they were forced to round the Cape in the days when there was no Suez Canal. He estimates that salvageable treasure is in the billions of dollars. And who is Bo Kjaer-Olsen? A credible man with an incredible background.
- Olsen was born in Denmark fifty years ago June 1. He immigrated with his parents to South Africa in 1952, was raised and schooled in Cape Town where he lived for twenty-seven years. During his boarding school days, two fathers of his schoolmates were game wardens, so he began spending the three months of summer vacation with them. Olsen went in the wardens' Jeeps, helping with anti-poaching enforcement and with ministering to sick and wounded animals (e.g. lions with abscessing teeth and elephants with festering wounds from hunters). His early adventures were mainly in the 400 by 300 miles of the Kruger National Park and the Okavango Swamps on the northern - border of Nambia (the source of the Kunini River).
- Bo Kjaer-Olsen also became well known as a salvage diver and leader of salvage and exploration expeditions. Included in these were rock climbing and caving (going into deep caves for up to seven days); the caving expeditions were motivated by old stories of hidden treasure and by needed mapping of many unlogged caverns.
- In 1977 Mr. Olsen left South Africa in the middle of the twenty-year war against the African National Congress. He had fallen in love with a ramp model, his first wife Maureen, who had a U.S. green card and wanted to go to Honolulu. He obtained a Visitor's Visa and joined her in Hawaii where they were married.
- Beginning in the Islands as a career diver for marine tropical fish, Mr. Olsen then moved into aqua culture. For fifteen years his farm was recognized as one of the preeminent aqua culture farms in the U.S., producing prawns, talapia, white amur, Chinese carp, blue white channel cats, Chinese catfish, South American paku (tarnbaque) -all highly desirable edible fish- plus numerous tropical fish for the aquarium trade.
- By 1994, Olsen was recognized as an authority in this industry. He was asked to give a commentary on the next twenty-five years of aqua culture to the Office of Technology Assessment in Washington D.C. and before the senators and the U.S. President. (For this occasion, Mr. Olsen's mother -still in Denmark- insisted that he buy a suit!) Presently, Mr. Olsen is still Advisor to Governor Ben Cayatino, of Hawaii, in aqua culture related affairs.
- After a ten-year court battle in which Mr. Olsen brought suit against his landlord for the latter's termination of his water source and breach of contract, Mr. Olsen is no longer practicing aqua culture. Receiving his settlement, he moved from Hawaii to California.
- Enter Antares, the steel boat that will become Mr. Olsen's right hand in his treasure expedition.
- Antares is a steel boat, once registered as a bottom fisher, which Mr. Olsen saved from a hard existence. She is a Sparkman and Stevens, designed by Olaf Stevens. (Stevens is known by many for his pure wind machines; he designed at least three of the winning America's Cup boats.) Antares was built by Jacobson Boat Yards in Oyster Bay, NJ, is black iron, 70' on deck and with bowsprit, 80'. (She is documented at 63'.) Her beam is 18.6'; her draft, 7.2'. (With a hydraulic ram to lower a 4000-pound centerboard, her draft increases to 15 1/2'. )
- Antares is named after the star of the Southern Hemisphere's constellation "Scorpio." Antares is important as a star site for sextant navigation. During her illustrious career, Olsen's boat has won many races including the Trans Pacific and the Sydney Hobart. "Old-timers" will recognize her for winning the Newport to Ensenada race.
- Bo Kjaer-Olsen fell in love with Antares' lines, her sailing abilities and her antiqueness. (She was launched the same day Olsen was born: June 1, 1949.) He reports having a unique eye to choosing a vessel to do a specific task, in this case salvaging historic wrecks. The prime focus is on a Dutch East Indian man on the West Coast of South Africa.
- In the 16th century and beyond, the Dutch East India Company was chartered for various nations and kings to run silks and spices. One of their vessels, de Gouden Buys, sank in 1693, 400 miles north of Cape Town on the West Coast. Apparently all but fifteen of the two hundred-man crew were so sick with scurvy that the skipper ran into coast because he couldn't bring the sails around short handed. When she floundered, de Gouden Buys carried seventeen chests of gold coins, sixty-four bars of gold, and numerous bars of silver.
- Bo Kjaer-Olsen stumbled on the wreck by sheer accident when he was diving for abalone and lobster in 1972. Olsen recovered two bronze cannons and a few hundred gold coins at the time then, with some engraved silverware he found, proceeded to positively identify the sunken ship.
- Olsen explained the surety of his identification of de Gouden Buys. In the early centuries, silversmiths were few and far between and used only by royalty and wealthy citizens. Each metal smith (gold or silver) had his own insignia, so that insignia plus initials of the owner of the silver pieces were on record. One need only search the smith logs to find for whom a piece had been made. (According to Olsen, it has been a universal law that each country has its silver records from the beginning of the silversmithing industry. The smiths stamped their insignia, recorded their clients' names, and gave the log to the government.) Generally modern treasure-hunters use this method or a bell with a ship's name for verification.
- As only a ship's captain, first officers, and aristocratic passengers carried and ate with silverware, finding a piece of the silver is an important part of the sleuthing process. Records of the passage of wealthy clients were kept, so pieces of silver with their initials are of great help to investigators. Olsen said that the de Gouden Buys passenger who helped him identify her fateful voyage was Catherine Van der Viejyk who was on her way to visit her father, an English ambassador in the East Indies. She, obviously, did not complete her trip, her conveyor now a conglomerate that looks like a pile of rocks on the ocean's bottom.
- Now, over three hundred years since her sinking, the de Gouden Buys is about to be visited by Antares and her captain Bo Kjaer-Olsen. On both their fiftieth birthdays, Mr. Olsen reports that the two are just beginning an illustrious career in salvaging old wrecks and their treasures. He is open to divulging the information he has because he is the only one who knows the actual treasure site, he holds only the second salvage license ever issued in South Africa, and, importantly, he has South African citizenship. Further, Olsen's business is in Cape Town.
- Mr. Olsen has stated, "Even though treasure hunting in the U.S. has become extremely popular in the last ten years, one should be very cautious as to what one divulges. Modern companies are springing up like mushrooms, and many seem to only be interested in diving in tropical waters and in fleecing investors of millions of dollars." On the other hand, Mr. Olsen's work will be in an inhospitable area with severe North and South Westerlies and water temperature of 52 degrees F. The only time he can work the site is the summer months when there are only South Easterlies. Mr. Olsen reports a solid work window of only six months: October through to March.
- The lure of billions of dollars in sunken treasure. The fascination of the high fated de Gouden Buys and of a young aristocratic woman named Catherine who only wanted to visit her father. The challenge of the mystery lying on the ocean floor off the Skeleton Coast, north of Cape Town. These have called Bo Kjaer-Olsen and his Antares over the years and around the world. They are now about to answer that call.
Rumors - and Speculation: The people in the boating community near Pedregal were trying to fill in the blanks about the attack on Bo and his family. They were afraid - "If it could happen to him, it could happen to us." And they were speculating out loud, trying to fill in the blanks and figure out for themselves why he was attacked. This being Panama the first thought was "he must have been involved in drugs somehow." Since then I have spoken with people, good friends of mine who also knew Bo and who had worked with him on salvage operations in the past. They gave me a dead flat "no way in hell" was Bo involved in anything like drug trafficking. Someone said "tell me he had some kind of a problem with a woman, well then yeah..." but in the same breath he said there was no indication whatsoever that Bo would be involved in drug trafficking.
Gold On Board? It turns out Bo had recently completed a salvage operation in Honduras of a sunken treasure ship and the government of that country had paid him in Spanish gold - about $200,000 dollars worth. Apparently, Bo might have had that on board and that certainly would have been enough to attract the five armed gunmen who came onto his boat. I was also told Bo had a "habit of having large amounts of cash on the boat." Also, gold or no gold, large amounts of cash are a bad-guy magnet.
Relative Locations of David, Pedregal, and Bajo Pipon, Republic of Panama
Two Survivors: I have not yet spoken to Bo's son Zach, and from what I understand there are some family members who will be arriving in Panama soon to help take care of him. I hope they get him moved from David to Panama City where there is better healthcare available. Both Zach and his wife survived this attack, and I'm sure they are cooperating with the police and investigative authorities to identify and catch the killers.
The "Antares" Under Sail in Costa Rica
For Everyone Else: Once again, the details behind a deadly attack reveal the same truths we have learned so many times. If you want to greatly increase your personal safety while living in the Republic of Panama, keep your money in the bank. If you ever happen to find yourself in possession of $200,000 dollars worth of Spanish gold from a sunken treasure - put it in a safe deposit box in a bank somewhere. If you have valuables the bad guys will come to get them, sooner or later. You might think you have a secret stash or hiding place, but one way or another they will find out about it and come to take it from you. And, unfortunately, you might lose your life in the process. Also, I know this story about the attack on Bo Kjaer-Olsen and his family aboard the "Antares" in Panama has been making the rounds of the international boating community. I wanted to provide these additional details and a follow-up to the story for your benefit. Panama is a very safe country, relatively speaking. This was apparently not just a random attack against a boater for practically no reason. There was a hefty motive - money and gold. My heartfelt condolences to Bo's friends and family.
Rights and Permission To Reuse: Feel free to widely distribute this information as long as you give credit to the original source (www.panama-guide.com) and provide a link-back to the original article (url http://www.panama-guide.com/article.php/20100708142809603). Thank you very much.
Copyright 2010 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.