Spain clears captain of US treasure hunting ship

4th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Spanish court has cleared the captain of the Odyssey Explorer ship of charges relating to the dispute over priceless treasure recovered from a 19th century shipwreck, the Florida-based company said Wednesday.

A court in Algeciras, Spain found Captain Sterling Vorus innocent of charges that he obstructed Spanish police when they boarded the Odyssey Explorer in 2007.

"The Spanish court ruled that Spanish officials did not have proper authorization to board or search Odyssey's ship," the company, Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc., said in a statement.

According to Spanish law, police are prevented "from boarding or searching foreign ships without authorization of the captain or the vessel's flag state, which was never obtained," so Vorus's actions "did not rise to the level of illicit conduct."

The incident took place after the Odyssey recovered a priceless trove from a sunken 19th century ship they code-named the "Black Swan."

In May 2007 the Tampa, Florida-based company announced it had found half a million silver coins and hundreds of gold objects from the ship, which went down in 1804, in the Atlantic Ocean off the Strait of Gibraltar.

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

Madrid contested the company's claim to the wreck in a US court in Florida, arguing that if it was a Spanish military vessel -- instead of a private commercial ship -- or if it was located in Spanish waters, any treasure would belong to Spain.

Odyssey said the treasure was found in "international waters in the Atlantic Ocean," but never gave an exact location citing security concerns.

Spain has identified the ship as the Our Lady of Mercedes. When the Mercedes sank in 1804 it led Spain to declare war on Britain and re-enter the Napoleonic Wars.

In December a Florida court ruled that Odyssey must return the treasure to Spain, but Odyssey has appealed the ruling.

The company "has consistently acted legally and appropriately in accordance with all laws and regulations related to the 'Black Swan' arrest and recovery," Odyssey said.

© 2010 AFP

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