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Spain claims all Black Swan treasure
By International Herald Tribune

Spain laid formal claim Thursday to a shipwreck that yielded US$500 million (€324 million) in treasure, saying it has proof the vessel is Spanish and demanding that a U.S. deep-sea exploration firm that recovered the booty give it all back.

Culture Ministry officials said the 19th-century shipwreck at the heart of a year-old dispute with Odyssey Marine Exploration is the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes — a Spanish warship sunk by the British navy southwest of Portugal in 1804 with more than 200 people on board.

The Spanish government filed evidence Thursday backing up its claim with a U.S. federal judge hearing the case in Tampa, Florida, where Odyssey is based.
Washington-based lawyer James Goold, who represents the Spanish government in the case, said U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo would now convene the two parties to review the case before deciding who gets to keep the treasure.

“It is the property of the Spanish navy, government and people, and we want it all back,” said Admiral Teodoro de Leste Contreras, who runs a naval museum owned by the ministry.

Goold said at a news conference in Madrid that he expected Odyssey would keep “not a penny” of the salvage.

Spain argues the entire treasure should be returned because naval vessels never cease to be the property of the nation that flagged them, regardless of where they lay, under the principle of sovereign immunity, Goold said.

“Spain has not abandoned or otherwise relinquished in any way its ownership of Mercedes,” Spain argued in Thursday’s court filing.

Odyssey said it would issue a statement after reviewing Spain’s claim and the file provided Thursday to the U.S. court. But company officials has said in the past they believed the court would award them most of the treasure, as they had found it.

Odyssey announced in May 2007 it had discovered the wreck in the Atlantic and raised 500,000 silver coins and other artifacts worth an estimated US$500 million (€324 million). At the time it said it did not know what ship it was, and flew the booty back to Tampa without Spain’s knowledge from an airport on the British colony of Gibraltar, on Spain’s southwestern tip.

Spain went to the U.S. federal court claiming ownership of the treasure if it turned out to be connected to the country’s national heritage.

Goold said Spain’s evidence — based on material provided by Odyssey under court order — proved the ship and cargo were definitely Spanish property.

Naval and coin experts said they had proof the treasure, now held in a warehouse somewhere in Tampa, had come from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes. The coins included gold doubloons, or “pieces of eight,” minted in 1803 in Lima, Peru, bearing the image of Spain’s King Carlos IV, ministry coin expert Carmen Marcos said.

The Mercedes exploded and sank in a naval battle as it sailed back to Spain from South America.

Spain said in its court filing: “Analysis of location information from multiple sources confirms the location on the seabed from which Odyssey took coins and other artifacts is the site of Mercedes.”

It said artifacts on the seabed, their distribution and other characteristics, as well as artifacts taken by Odyssey “further identify the site as the remains of Mercedes.”

Odyssey also said the ship was probably the Mercedes, after Pizzo last month forced the company to disclose information on the salvage, including the identity of the ship and its location.

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