Tuesday 21 February 2012

Salvaged Treasure Headed Back to Spain

In the US, a federal judge has ordered deep sea salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration (OMEX.O) to turn over to the Spanish government within a week the $500 million worth of Spanish coins it recovered in 2007 from the wreck of the Spanish ship Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes off the coast of Portugal. This ruling by U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo brings to an end the five-year legal battle between Odyssey and Spain over the 594,000 gold and silver coins. The Nuestra Senora was sunk by the British in an 1804 battle. Spain has never relinquished ownership of the vessel and its cargo, which is why (according to the Law of the Sea the salvage company cannot claim it). The ship was also a gravesite for the Spanish sailors who lost their lives in the battle.
A U.S. judge ruled in Spain's favor last year, and Odyssey Marine's appeals were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month. The coins have been held in a storage facility at an undisclosed location in Florida. Pizzo said Odyssey Marine must provide an inventory of the coins to Spain by Tuesday and turn over custody of the coins by February 24. Spain will have to pay for the shipping costs.
I am glad that it has turned out that way, despite the time it took. The circumstances surrounding the issue of the original salvage licence, the way Odyssey deliberately misinformed everybody where the wreck lay at the time the discovery was announced (only after the loot was safely in the USA) are nothing short of shameful. Wholly inexplicable is how the British authorities in Gibraltar became part of the heist (as now it can be called) by allowing the loot to pass through Gibraltar on its way to the US absolutely unchallenged before its ownership was determined. Spain should now ask Great Britain for an explanation, if the British had impounded these coins, fellow EU member Spain would not have had to waste five years on court cases in the US to get their property back.

Vignette: Gibraltar, where the monkeys live.

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