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
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
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
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