Claim to Spain's sunken treasures drags on

12th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

A US treasure hunting firm has just been given three more weeks to object a court ruling that treasures recovered from a Spanish ship wreck be returned to Spain.

Miami – A US federal judge on Wednesday gave treasure hunting firm Odyssey until 6 July to challenge a court ruling ordering it to hand over treasures recovered from a Spanish ship wreck to Spain.

The Tampa, Florida-based company had been ordered to turn over half a million silver coins and hundreds of gold objects it discovered somewhere in "international waters in the Atlantic Ocean."

The discovery of the sunken treasure, from a ship code-named "Black Swan," was announced in 2007.

In September 2008, Spain said it had proof that the treasure came from the 1804 wreck of a Spanish frigate named Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes.

The ship, which sank off southern Portugal with a massive cargo of gold and silver, is Spain's "historical patrimony and also constitutes the tomb of 250 seamen and Spanish citizens," the government argued.

Spain said the frigate was covered under the principle of "sovereign immunity" that applies to ships belonging to states as well as to wrecks, and which bars "unauthorised intrusion or exploitation for commercial ends," according to Spain's culture ministry.

"(The) evidence is clear," Odyssey's top legal adviser Melinda MacConnel said in a statement Wednesday, "that the majority of coin cargo being transported on the Mercedes belonged to private merchants," so that portion of the cargo "never belonged to the Spanish government".

The earlier court ruling also "fails to acknowledge the absence of a vessel at the Black Swan site or the commercial nature of the Mercedes' mission at the time of her demise, which would legally nullify the claim to sovereign immunity on that vessel," the statement read.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., which focuses on salvaging deep-water shipwrecks, is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

AFP / Expatica

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