Treasure Case Creeps Along
By David L. Ganz
The status of
Odyssey Marine Exploration's claim for sunken
Spanish treasure worth $500 million is taking
almost as long to determine as Homer's "Odyssey"
"The Odyssey," written thousands of years ago,
traces the 10 years it takes Odysseus to return
from the Trojan war. Thus far the litigation
concerning the sunken Nuestra Senora de Mercedes
is two years, two months and counting. For now,
the wait extends at least until Aug. 7.
On June 3, the U.S. Magistrate Judge assigned to
the case ruled that under principles of
international law, the government of Peru, which
sought to intervene on the basis that it had
cargo aboard, had no standing to be part of the
legal proceeding determining the fate of the
600,000 silver and gold coins on the ship.
At the same time, another ruling: that the
Kingdom of Spain was entitled to have the entire
case dismissed because they had sovereign
immunity that protected it from being sued and
required that the case be dismissed.
The case in legal jargon is the salvage firm's
"arrest" in international waters of the remains
of a warship laden with treasure that went down
off the Straits of Gibraltar in 1804, killing
more than 200 sailors and their families, and
taking a fabulous treasure consisting of tons of
gold and silver coin to Davy Jones's locker.
Since then, some additional activity:
On June 3, the Kingdom of Spain filed a
technical motion seeking to dismiss the amended
complaint or, alternatively, for summary
judgment against Odyssey. Magistrate Judge Mark
A. Pizzo permitted that filing.
Two days later, on June 5, a group of
descendants from the finders of the gold and
silver asked for an extension of time to
respond. The motions were referred to Magistrate
Judge Mark A. Pizzo.
One June 8, U.S. District Court Judge Steven D.
Merryday extended to July 6 the time to file
response/reply to the report and recommendations
of the magistrate judge; he also set as a new
control date Aug. 7, 2009, to respond to
The Republic of Peru asked for and received time
to file objections to the magistrate's report
and recommendation knocking them out of the
Odyssey is a successful salvage firm, which
presently has 15 different salvage actions
brought by "arresting" long-sunken vessels
pending in the United States District Court for
the Central District of Florida, headquartered
By March 2007, Odyssey discovered sunken objects
in international waters about 100 miles west of
the Straits of Gibraltar at a depth of
approximately 3,300 feet. It recovered an
artifact (a small bronze block), symbolically
deposited that item with the court, and on the
basis of this asked for the "arrest of the
Odyssey then went to court and demanded under
the "law of finds" possessory rights and
ownership over the items it has recovered and
that remain at the salvage site. This is sort of
like "finders, keepers."
It alternatively asked the court, under the "law
of salvage," that it be given "a liberal salvage
award" for its services." That means that if
Spain prevails, it's not a free ride. Experts
believe Odyssey's reward might be in the