October 17, 2012 – Spain Gains Access to Trove of Shipwreck Coins: Update from the Associated Press: The US Supreme Court has again avoided an international dispute over the treasure salvaged from a 19th-century shipwreck.
The justices rejected appeals from deep-sea explorers, who found the wreck of a Spanish galleon, and Peru, both of which objected to rulings awarding the treasure to Spain. In February, Spain took possession of 17 tons of silver coins and other artefacts worth around $500m [at least – see pricing below].
Odyssey Marine Exploration has lost every round in federal court in its bid to keep the treasure it discovered after finding the wreck, believed to be the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, in the Atlantic off Portugal. The ship sank in 1804.
Spanish officials have inspected 595,000 gold and silver coins and other objects plucked from a 19th-century shipwreck and stored in a Florida warehouse. The examination began after a lengthy legal battle with the American treasure hunting company that recovered the trove.
On the orders of a U.S. district court, experts from the Spanish Culture Ministry gained access to the warehouse, which is in Sarasota and where the company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, had stored the objects. Meanwhile, two Hercules transport planes from the Spanish Air Force left Tuesday morning for Florida, paving the way for the repatriation to Spain of a treasure weighing about 17 metric tons and with an estimated value of several hundred million euros. [Note: It’s worth $1,056,405,519 as follows: 1 metric ton = 2,204.6 pounds, one pound = 16 ounces, the price of gold closed yesterday on the COMEX at $17,61.70 per pound, therefore, 17 X 2,204.6 = 37,478.2 pounds X 16 = 599,651.2 ounces X $1,761.70/oz. = $1,056,405,519.04 – that should help Spains deficit problem] Update: Gold closed at $1,738.80/oz. yesterday October 15, 2012 – nearest futures price.
Melinda J. MacConnel, vice president and general counsel for Odyssey, which is based in Tampa, said the forced return of the trove to Spain was in fact “a sad day for Spanish cultural heritage.” She said in a statement that Spain had been “very shortsighted in this case,” notably because it “failed to consider that in the future no one will be incentivized to report underwater finds.” Instead, she predicted, “anything found with a potential Spanish interest will be hidden or even worse, melted down or sold on eBay.” [Oh yey, for sale, $1 Billion in Gold and silve, make bid now]
Odyssey recovered the treasure in 2007 from the Atlantic Ocean floor after finding the wreck off the coast of Portugal thanks to a remote-controlled underwater robot. The operation, codenamed Black Swan, took the coins and objects from the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (pictured above), a Spanish frigate that was intercepted and sunk by the British in 1804. The treasure hunters then moved the trove to Gibraltar before taking back most of it to Florida — to the fury of the Spanish authorities.
In the ensuing American legal battle, Spain successfully defended its claim that it maintained ownership of the ship after more than 200 years as part of its historical property rights under international law.
Although a U.S. court had already ruled in Spain’s favor in 2009, Odyssey continued to challenge Spain’s ownership claims. As recently as last week, a federal court in Tampa dismissed a claim by Odyssey to receive $412,000 in compensation from Spain for the cost of storing the objects since their recovery. The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, rejected Odyssey’s petition for an emergency stay to prevent Spain from repatriating the objects immediately.
But while almost five years of legal battle in the U.S. appear to have come to a close, Spanish archaeologists want to press ahead with separate criminal charges, in a court in La Linea de la Concepción, the Spanish town that is the gateway to Gibraltar. An initial lawsuit was filed there against Odyssey in 2007, for damages to Spain’s historical patrimony and illegal trafficking of historical items, not only in relation to the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes recovery but also other deep-sea search missions carried out by Odyssey in Spanish waters since 2001.
“We need criminal sanctions so as to set a strong precedent and ensure that such activities that destroy archaeological patrimony cannot be repeated,” [Oh sure, tell me it’s not about the money.]said José María Lancho, a Spanish lawyer who represents Nerea Arqueologia, a company formed by archaeologists affiliated to the University of Málaga. “Even if it is good news that this treasure is now returning to Spain, the archaeological damage is irreparable because nobody except Odyssey will ever be able to understand exactly where and how these objects were found.”
Mr. Lancho compared Odyssey’s business approach to somebody finding a manuscript and then selling some of its pages separately to reap higher profits. Mr. Lancho said that he and other plaintiffs would take the case to a national judicial authority if the judge in La Linea failed to rule on the case swiftly, now that the U.S. legal battle had come to a close.
Last week, Spain’s culture minister, José Ignacio Wert, already welcomed news that “the treasure is on its way back to Spain.” He said that it was too early to determine how Spain would showcase the trove but that it would “probably be distributed among different national museums.” [37,478 pounds? – Spain must have a lot of museums!]
In the meantime, the Spanish government is expected to focus its efforts on retrieving the part of the trove that was left by Odyssey in storage in Gibraltar, a territory that has itself been at the heart of a lengthy sovereignty dispute between Spain and Britain. Odyssey, however, has so far opposed any attempt to return the objects that remained in Gibraltar, whose fate falls outside the U.S. rulings in favor of Spain. (Credits: Photos – Getty Images, Narrative – The New York Times).
The Master of Disaster