Odyssey loot may belong to Spain

Deep salvagers fall foul of international law

Author: Pat
2nd February 2012
 

Sunken treasure salvage outfit Odyssey has suffered a blow in the courts over ownership rights.

A hearing before the US-based Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded booty from the ‘Black Swan’ wreck should be property of Spain.

Although codenamed ‘Black Swan’, the wreck is now thought to be that of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish vessel that perished in 1804. It sank some 40 miles off Portugal in conflict with the British during the Battle of Cape Santa Maria.

Odyssey was criticised back in 2007 when it flew 17 tonnes of recovered gold and silver coins to the USA before news of the discovery had gone public.

The Spanish authorities have since made a claim against the company via the US courts. Judges agreed with a lower court’s finding that the U.S. federal court lacked jurisdiction over property recovered by Odyssey from the Atlantic Ocean in 2007.

Odyssey argued that even if the recovered cargo had originated from the Mercedes, that vessel was primarily on a commercial voyage when it sank. It therefore should not be considered as a ‘warship’ having immunity from the jurisdiction of the court.

Judge Black, writing for the Eleventh Circuit, concluded that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) applied in the case because, “The shipwreck of the Mercedes is thus unquestionably the property of Spain.”

Odyssey has been directed to turn the salvaged treasure over to Spain, although the company now plans to appeal.

 
 
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