US salvage firm fights Spain's claim to sunken treasure

19th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

A US salvage company Thursday told a US court of appeals Spain had no right to claim sunken gold and silver treasure it recovered from a 19th century shipwreck off the coast of Gibraltar in May 2007.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. filed a response to Spain's claim on the "Black Swan," Odyssey's name for the shipwreck, which Madrid insists was the Mercedes, a military galleon that by right belongs to Spain and may have sunk in Spanish waters.

Odyssey said in its filing that the Mercedes was on a commercial mission when it sank in 1804 in the Atlantic Ocean, "a fact that legally voids Spain's claim of immunity under settled international law and conventions."

At stake is a colonial-period treasure of more than half a million silver coins, hundreds of gold coins and gold and silver artifacts. No estimated value has been placed on the treasure, which Odyssey brought to the United States.

In December, a Florida court ruled it lacked federal jurisdiction over the case and ordered Odyssey to return the treasure to Spain. Odyssey appealed the decision.

"If the court did not have jurisdiction, it would have no legal authority to order transfer of the property to Spain, who did not have possession of the coins," said Odyssey Vice President and General Counsel Melinda MacConnel in Thursday's filing.

She said a recent US court ruling "requires a sovereign to be in possession of property in order to successfully argue sovereign immunity."

The company insists it "has consistently acted legally and appropriately in accordance with all laws and regulations" in reference to their trove.

Odyssey said the treasure was found in "international waters in the Atlantic Ocean," but has never given its precise location citing security concerns.

Spain's suspicions were raised when the company discreetly shipped its massive find to the United States via the British-owned port of Gibraltar.

"We continue to believe that justice and the rule of law will ultimately prevail and hope for an amicable resolution in this case," said Odyssey CEO Greg Stemm.

© 2010 AFP

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