Tuesday 21 February 2012

Treasure Headed Back to Spain, Underwater Treasure Hunters "Driven Underground"?

The decision that Odyssey Marine Exploration has to surrender the cargo of the Spanish ship Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes to its owners, Spain by February 24 was slammed by the salvage companies lawyers.
The company will abide by the ruling, even though it "flies in the face of all legal precedent," Melinda MacConnel, vice president and general counsel of Odyssey Marine, told reporters after the hearing. MacConnel said the ruling "undermined" the jurisdiction of U.S. courts in naval affairs, and complained that Washington had influenced the case in Spain's favor. "Clearly, the political influences in this case overshadowed the law," she said. The ruling would also discourage other treasure hunters from reporting their finds, she added. "The items will be hidden or even worse, melted down or sold on eBay," she said.
well, golly, Washington is concerned about how deeds done out there by US citizens is going to affect the international position of the USA? How awful. How awful for US Treasure hunters who want to go out there and rob war graves belonging to another country for gold and silver coins to sell on the open - US - market for a huge profit. As for US courts not having jurisdiction over property of another country outside the borders of US territory, how odd, eh? Hands up, who thought the Americans owned the entire world? Have a look into the details of how (and where) Odyssey gained the salvage licence in the first place and how they tried to hide the date (it was announced as a "colonial period wreck") and location, and thus identity of the ship.

But, look what other argument crawls slimily out of the woodwork here. If US courts do not give underwater grave robbers all the property they find there belonging to other people, Melinda MacConnel argues that grave robbers are not going to report what they hoik out in future. Let us recall that Odyssey is not some two-bit mom and pop treasure hunting outfit. It was set up to be a legal enterprise doing everything to the letter of the law, and profiting from the sale of legally acquired artefacts. That there is already a black market of illicitly and illegally acquired shipwreck-derived antiquities out there is not denied by anyone. MacConnel's argument is just the same as the UK metal detectorists ("if you make everybody adhere to standards of responsibility, all you'll do is drive the hobby underground") and the US no-questions-asked sellers and buyers of dugup antiquities ("if you make everybody adhere to standards of responsibility, all you'll do is drive the hobby underground"). Now Odyssey is claiming that if you make everybody salvaging material from historic wrecks adhere to standards of responsibility (like sort out the ownership issues before you begin work, not after), this will drive the business underground.

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