Spain Should Get Odyssey Treasure
By Mike Unser
adventure, mystery, suspense and a battle over
who owns a sunken treasure… they are the
trappings of an action-adventure blockbuster
that could make hundreds of millions. But this
is no movie plot. The treasure is real —
possibly worth some $500 million — and a battle
over its ownership wages on, but now at another
500 million Colonial-era gold and silver coins
belonged to the sunken Spanish warship Nuestra
Senora de las Mercedes and should be returned to
Spain, a U.S. judge said this week.
Odyssey Marine Exploration, a deep-sea
treasure-hunting firm based in Tampa, Florida,
discovered the shipwrecked treasure in
international waters about 100 miles west of the
Straits of Gibraltar — a site Odyssey code-named
"Black Swan." Soon after the March 2007
discovery, Spain laid claim to the 17-ton coin
hoard, demanding its return and sparking a near
two-year legal battle. A page in that battle has
U.S. Federal Court Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo
on Wednesday said the Court lacked jurisdiction
in the case. Additionally, he believes the site
of the treasure find was indeed that of the
Mercedes, which is subject to sovereign
"The debris field’s location, coins, cannons and
artifacts persuasively match the Mercedes
historical record," wrote Pizzo.
Pizzo suggested that all artifacts be turned
over to Spain within 10 days.
"I’m very surprised," Greg Stemm, Odyssey’s CEO,
said in a statement. "Odyssey has done
everything by the book. For the Court to find
that enough evidence exists to conclusively
identify the site as the Mercedes and that
neither Odyssey nor the claimants who owned the
property have any legal interest is just wrong.
I’m confident that ultimately the judge or the
appellate court will see the legal and
evidentiary flaws in Spain’s claim, and we’ll be
back to argue the merits of the case."
Spain naturally welcomed Pizzo’s decision.
"I am delighted that the judge has ruled that
the ship belongs to Spain and the treasure
belongs to Spain. It is a very important
decision," Spanish Culture Minister Angeles
Gonzalez-Sinde was quoted on Reuters.