Admiralty & Maritime Law

Spain Claims US 'Pirates' Stole Sunken Treasure from Underseas Galleon

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A federal court ruling against a Florida-based deep-sea exploration company last month apparently has led to a claim by the Spanish government. It contends that Odyssey Marine Exploration “pirates” stole underseas treasure from a Spanish warship sunk by the British navy off the coast of Portugal in 1804 with some 200 people aboard.

Although Odyssey said in 2007 that it found a trove of 500,000 silver and gold coins reportedly worth some $500 million in international waters, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer for the Spanish government says otherwise, reports the London Times.

“The mystery is over,” says attorney James Goold. The treasure “belongs to the Spanish Armada.”

The Spanish government filed a claim Thursday against Odyssey in an ongoing federal case being heard by a magistrate judge in Tampa, Fla., contending that the sunken treasure came from Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, according to the Associated Press.

Because the ship is a naval vessel, Goold says, it never ceased to be the property of the country that flagged the ship, under the principle of sovereign immunity, reports AP.

The Times says the Spanish government accuses Odyssey of what the newspaper describes as “modern-day piracy and plundering its archaeological sites for profit” in court papers that were to be filed today. “The sinking of the Mercedes was a pivotal event in Spanish and European history, and the site and its contents are the inalienable historical heritage and patrimony of Spain,” the filing contends.

Odyssey has essentially contended that a “finders’ keepers” rule of maritime law applies to the shipwreck, the Times says. The company has also contested the identity of the vessel as the Mercedes, AP notes.

Related coverage:

Associated Press: “Judge orders Fla. treasure hunters to reveal shipwreck info”

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