- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006


As junta leader during Haiti’s 1991-1994 military regime, Gen. Raoul Cedras spent weekends scuba diving off the coast of Haiti in the hopes of finding sunken treasure in centuries-old shipwrecks, often accompanied by a mysterious Canadian confidant known as “the Shadow.”

The general has never returned from exile in Panama, but “the Shadow” is back, working on a contract from the recently replaced interim government to search for a 17th-century ship once captained by Welsh pirate Henry Morgan.

Lynn Garrison, a former Canadian fighter pilot and adviser to Gen. Cedras until the junta was removed in an invasion by 20,000 U.S. Marines, has been seeking the remains of Morgan’s flagship, the HMS Oxford, which was accidentally blown to bits off the southwestern coast of Haiti in 1669.

Mr. Garrison is not alone. The search for the Oxford and other ships thought to be encrusted in coral at the bottom of the Caribbean has lured other treasure hunters to Haiti, where they have quarreled among themselves and with the government over the right to excavate the wrecks.

Some of these treasure hunters claim there are billions of dollars in gold and emeralds buried in Spanish galleons that could make them rich and inject money into desperately poor Haiti. Others say there are only iron cannons, anchors and other artifacts of archeological and historical value.

In the early 1990s, Mr. Garrison tried to keep his identity secret while he worked behind the scenes as a public relations officer for a military regime that human rights groups accused of killing thousands of pro-democracy activists.

Since returning to Haiti after a rebellion by former soldiers helped topple President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, Mr. Garrison has continued his furtive ways.

His company, Caribbean Marine Institute, signed a contract with the interim government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue in August 2004 to excavate shipwrecks off the Haitian coast, with any profits to be split 50-50.

But his return to Haiti has not been publicized, and his involvement in the Caribbean Marine Institute has been kept secret, while the U.S.-based company and its partners have been roiled by rumors that valuable artifacts from shipwrecks have been stolen.

Mr. Garrison has gone by the alias “Robert Morgan,” or simply “Morgan,” apparently a reference to the pirate. He did not reply to numerous messages left at e-mail addresses and phone numbers in Port-au-Prince and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., provided by his business associates.

His company is as obscure as Mr. Garrison himself. Caribbean Marine Institute is registered in Nevada under the name of Mr. Garrison’s Los Angeles-based attorney, Maurice L. Muehle, and its only listed address is a post office box in Minden, a town of fewer than 3,000 people near the border with California.

The company was formed in June 2004, and two months later won a coveted contract from the Haitian government to search for shipwrecks in Haitian waters, despite having no apparent experience and no assets beyond $75,000 in capital declared to Nevada state authorities.

According to Doug Chozianin, one of Mr. Garrison’s partners in the institute, the company was “confident, based on our research, that we would discover a number of ancient wrecks and that would yield a bounty of treasure.”

But it never even sent a boat to Haiti. Instead, it contracted Twin Star Marine Industries, a Florida-based salvage and commercial diving company, to do the work for it.

Robert Weihe, owner of Twin Star, said that shortly after beginning exploration he discovered that Caribbean Marine Institute’s contract did not include the waters around the island of Ile a Vache, where the Oxford is thought to be located. Mr. Weihe eventually severed relations with Mr. Garrison, and continued the search for the Oxford with the help of Barry Clifford, a renowned underwater explorer from Cape Cod, Mass.

The Oxford, the holy grail for some pirate ship aficionados, is not thought to contain treasure, but even artifacts of little intrinsic value could reap large monetary rewards if they could be shown to have belonged to the notorious pirate.

Mr. Clifford says he believes his team has found the Oxford. But it has since been involved in a dispute with another U.S.-based company, Sub Sea Research, which claims to have an exclusive Haitian government contract to explore for shipwrecks around Ile a Vache.

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