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Battle Over Treasure Ship Ends: 17 tons of Bullion worth 370 Million Euros Leaves for Spain
The U.S. courts have refuted the notion that finders are inevitably the keepers of salvaged treasure. Odyssey Marine Exploration, an U.S. marine salvage company had identified and salvaged the 200-year old wreck of Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes off Portugal’s coast on the Atlantic near the Strait of Gibraltar. The frigate carrying 17 tons of silver and gold coins of Spanish Treasury was sunk by a British warship.
Within days of finding the wreck from 1804, Odyssey recovered the coins and transported it back to U.S. on a chartered plane. Thus started the intense legal battle over the treasure from las Mercedes and continued for the next 5 years. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-minute petition by the Peruvian government also making claim to the treasure claiming the gold and silver to have been mined in Peru. Point to note that many other nations did not join the claim even though the waters of their shores had been mixing with the waters that had encompassed the treasure for the last 200 years.
While, Odyssey, the salvage company was left without any compensation or benefits from the venture, when asked about the role and work of Odyssey in recovering the treasure and the coins in May 2007, the Spanish Ambassador said the company should have paid more attention to the other elements of the wreckage, most importantly to that of the remains of the ship’s crew.
James Goold, the attorney representing Spain in the legal battle said Odyssey deserves neither gratitude nor compensation from Madrid, as the company’s operation to salvage the coins resulted in damage to the Mercedes site.
The litigation ended last Friday in Tampa when U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo ordered Odyssey to hand over the coins to Spain.
The initial findings of the magistrate had been challenged by Odyssey, but two years ago U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday had upheld the finding that Spain should own the treasure. Odyssey continued the legal fight until on the second day of February, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the motion from Odyssey trying for an injunction against the order of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Spain’s ambassador to the United States, Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo said, “These are emotional and moving moments for me and all my colleagues behind me…History will make us who we are, and today we are witnessing a journey that started 200 years ago… This is not money. This is historical heritage.”