Sunken treasure: Spain demands that Odyssey Marine Exploration hand over the last of the Spanish Booty


This image showing the retrieval of sunken cargo is taken from a Spanish television news cast on the legal battles over the contents of the galleon christened the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes.

Five years later and the treasure of the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes is still making news.

According to The Associated Press, a judge in Florida is considering whether to order undersea explorers to return the last of the treasure they salvaged from a 200-year-old Spanish shipwreck near the Strait of Gibraltar in 2007.

Last month, Spanish military cargo planes collected 17 tons of coins from the Nuestra Señora which had been held in Florida after a federal judge ordered the Tampa company Odyssey Marine Exploration  to return it. International law generally holds that the contents of sovereign ships — such as the Spanish galleon which was sunk by the British navy in 1804 with 200 hands aboard — remains sovereign property.

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According to the AP, Spanish authorities now want the remainder, including artifacts said to have been left behind by Odyssey in Gibraltar, including sailors’ personal effects, sailing equipment and at least 100 silver coins.

James Goold, a Washington lawyer retained by the government of Spain, argued today before US Magistrate Judge James Pizzo that Odyssey must hand over the last remaining bits and pay Spain’s legal costs, too.

He also accused Odyssey of concealing the true nature of what is left in a Gibraltar storage crate, according to the AP.

"Gibraltar has been used to hide critical evidence in this case," was quoted as saying. "We need to figure out what's what."

However Melinda MacConnel, a lawyer for Odyssey, said her company had been unable to inventory the crate’s contents due in part to Spain’s legal action and also because people claiming to be descendents of the ship’s crew had brought a law suit in Gibraltar, where authorities have prevented the cargo’s movement.

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"Nothing has been hidden in this case," MacConnel was quoted as saying. "Odyssey fully intends to comply."

Prior to the return of the gold to Spain last month, Peruvian authorities launched a last-minute legal effort to prevent this, arguing that the gold had been mined, refined and minted in Peru and should belong to that nation.

Fox News Latino reported this week that Peruvians felt robbed by the US courts’ decision to return the treasure to Spain.

"Spain's progenitors were genocidal to our progenitors, the indigenous of Peru, thousands if not millions of whom died in underground mines going after that metal," Rodolfo Rojas Villanueva, an activist with the ecological and cultural movement Patria Verde, was quoted as saying.