Wednesday 20 October 2021

"Black Swan"/ Mercedes Case Collapses

The case against the exploiters of the wreck of the Spanish frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes includes sunk in 1804 off Portugal’s Algarve coast has collapsed (Jesús A. Cañas, 'Spanish court shelves case against US treasure hunters that looted ‘Mercedes’ frigate' Pais 19 Oct 2021). The preserved remains of the ship were exploited in May 2007 for the cargo of 500,000 silver and gold coins that it was carrying by the US treasure-hunting company Odyssey Marine Exploration. In order to conceal the origin of the treasure, the company used the code name Black Swan for the recovery project. In February 2012 the US justice system confirmed that the treasure belonged to Spain, but a case was opened in Spain into alleged crimes committed by the US treasure hunters as they were removing the coins.
At the same time as the legal process began in Florida to determine who was the rightful owner of the rescued treasure, Odyssey or Spain, a court in La Línea de la Concepción, in the southwestern Spanish province of Cádiz, began investigating whether the then-CEO of Odyssey Marine Exploration, Greg Stemm, and his team had committed any criminal offenses when they removed the haul from the shipwreck. Among the potential crimes were damaging an archeological site and smuggling.
After a tortuous 14-year investigation, the court has had to let the probe die, due mainly to the fact that the potential offenses have now exceeded the statute of limitations in Spain for trial. Part of the blame for the slow process of the case was due to the failure of the US justice system to comply with the legal requirements if the US citizens who were under investigation could be questioned by Spanish investigators. The case was being pursued as a private prosecution by archaeologist Javier Noriega, head of the company Nerea Arqueología Subacuática based in Málaga.
[Noriega] believes that an opportunity has been missed by Europe to convey “a clear message to the thieves who have spent years destroying the history of those shipwrecks from the modern era all over the world.”
Odyssey Marine Exploration never had any interest in the Spanish frigate beyond the cargo of silver and gold that it was carrying. That was made clear by the destruction caused by the company in the archeological area where the remains of the 275 people killed in the attack in 1804 lay. “When an archeological site is plundered, it is destroyed forever,” states Noriega.
After the site was looted, ARQUA led a scientific excavation that was carried out in three campaigns – from 2015 to 2017 – in which the remains of the shipwreck were documented and the items that the treasure hunters left behind were removed. These included cannon, cutlery and other everyday objects from life on board. The expedition also achieved the challenge of descending 1,130 meters underwater, the maximum depth achieved until that point during a subaquatic arqueological mission by a European country.

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