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article imageUS judge rules shipwreck treasure belongs to Spain

By Paris Franz     Feb 2, 2012 in World
A US court has decided the $500 million treasure recovered in 2007 from the bed of the Atlantic should be returned to Spain.
After a five-year legal battle over the ownership of the 594,000 gold and silver coins from the wreck site 100 miles west of Gibraltar, a judge in the US has ruled that Odyssey Marine Exploration must send the treasure to Spain.
Spain’s culture minister Jose Ignacio Wert told the Guardian: “This sentence gives Spaniards back what was already theirs. There is a space of 10 days in which the coins must be returned.”
The court agreed that the wreck was that of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish frigate sunk by a British squadron off Cape St Mary, Portugal, in October 1804. Odyssey has maintained that there was no clear wreck site, and that the coins were so scattered it was impossible to say exactly which vessel they came from.
The judge rejected that argument, noting that Odyssey had set out to find the Mercedes and had clearly done so.
Odyssey Marine Exploration
discovered the wreck site, code-named ‘Black Swan’, in May 2007, using remote-controlled, deep sea robots to scour the seabed.
They subsequently landed the treasure, weighing more than 17 tons, in Gibraltar, before flying it out in chartered aircraft to the United States. Shortly afterwards, a Spanish warship forced the company’s Odyssey Explorer salvage vessel into the nearby Spanish port of Algeciras, where it was searched.
A paper published in the American Society of International Law Cultural Heritage and Arts Review in 2010, written by Kimberly Alderman, noted some of the complications in the case. In addition to Spain, Peru has also filed a claim for ownership of the coins, as have 25 descendants of private persons who owned cargo on the Mercedes.
The Guardian reported that Odyssey might appeal the decision.
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