Following a long court battle between the Spanish government and the owners of shipwreck hunter Odyssey Marine Exploration, around half a billion US dollars worth of gold and silver coins will return to Spain.
The coins were removed from the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes which went down off the coast of Portugal in 1804, sunk by the British Navy. The ship was part of a group heading to Spain from its colonies in the Americas and was loaded down with gold and silver coins and other valuable items. During the Battle of Cape Saint Mary on Oct. 5 1804, the ship and its attendant convoy was attacked by the British and sunk, with the death of 249 sailors and the capture of 51 survivors.
Odyssey Marine Exploration discovered the wreck in 2007 and removed as much of its treasure as was possible, taking the coins and other items back to the USA. Some items were left stored on the Rock of Gibraltar.
There followed a long court battle as each side tried to prove its claim to the treasure, which according to El Pais, includes an "estimated 594,000 coins and other artifacts...bronze and copper ingots, pulley wheels, wooden fragments from “possibly a chest,” cannonballs, and rectangular and oval shaped boxes made of gold... gold jewelry, metal buckles, brass and glass optical lenses, ceramic shards and a glass bottle stopper."
After much legal to-ing and fro-ing, Spain finally won the battle to get the coins and other items and a major operation is now underway to ensure the safe return of the treasure. The cargo has been carefully inspected and itemised by Spanish authorities and will be transported on Friday Feb. 24.
A huge operation which involves the closure of approximately 100 miles of highway in Florida and co-operation between the US and Spanish air forces will see the treasure moved to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where two Hercules C-130 transport planes will take the precious cargo back to Spain. The whole operation is shrouded in secrecy to ensure nothing happens to the treasure whilst it is being moved.
The Daily Mail reports that "The Spanish Culture Ministry said Monday the coins are classified as national heritage and as such must stay inside the country and will be displayed in one or more Spanish museums. It ruled out the idea of the treasure being sold to ease Spain's national debt."
The paper says that the coins could be worth as much as $500 million to collectors which would have made the treasure from Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes the richest shipwreck find in history.