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US firm forced to return Spanish shipwreck treasure it discovered worth more than $500m (but at least the Spanish military is paying for its transit)
By Daily Mail Reporter | Last updated at 9:25 AM on 21st February 2012
  • Odyssey Marine Exploration discovered vast fortune of Spanish 'pieces of eight' off the coast of Portugal in 2007 from 1804 shipwreck
  • After bitter court case, US judge ruled treasure must be returned to Spain
  • Spanish Civil Guard sending two Spanish Hercules planes to reclaim it at their own expense

Despite finding the treasure and spending more than $2million to recover it, a federal judge on ordered a deep sea salvage company to turn over $500 million worth of Spanish coins it recovered from a shipwreck to the Spanish government within a week.
The Civil Guard said agents would leave within hours to take possession of the booty, worth an estimated $504 million, and two Spanish Hercules transport planes will bring it back.
But it was not exactly clear when - Monday or Tuesday - the planes and the agents would leave Spain.

The ruling by U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo ended a five-year legal battle between Odyssey Marine Exploration and Spain over the 594,000 gold and silver coins that were recovered from the wreck of the Spanish ship Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes in 2007 off the coast of Portugal.
The ship was sunk by the British in an 1804 battle and Spain said it retained ownership of the ship and its cargo.

A U.S. judge ruled in Spain's favour last year, and Odyssey Marine's appeals were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month.
The coins have been held in a storage facility at an undisclosed location in Florida.
Mr Pizzo said Odyssey Marine must provide an inventory of the coins to Spain by Tuesday and turn over custody of the coins by February 24.
Spain will have to pay for the shipping costs.

The company will abide by the ruling, even though it 'flies in the face of all legal precedent,' Melinda MacConnel, vice president and general counsel of Odyssey Marine, told reporters after the hearing.
Ms MacConnel said the ruling 'undermined' the jurisdiction of U.S. courts in naval affairs, and complained that Washington had influenced the case in Spain's favour.
'Clearly, the political influences in this case overshadowed the law,' she said.
The ruling would also discourage other treasure hunters from reporting their finds, she added. 'The items will be hidden or even worse, melted down or sold on eBay,' she said.
That certainly won't happen to this treasure hoard, said Guillermo Corral, the cultural counsellor at Spain's Embassy in Washington, noting that the coins and other artifacts were part of Spanish heritage. 'This is history,' he said.
Spanish Navy Rear Admiral Javier Romero said the ship was a grave site for the Spanish sailors who lost their lives in the battle.
Mark Gordon, Odyssey Marine's president, said the ruling would not affect current operations and business plans because all expenses of the project had already been passed through the company's prior profit and loss statements.

He said the company was planning for three shipwreck recoveries in 2012. 'The future of Odyssey Marine Explorations has never looked brighter,' Gordon said in a statement.
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.

Besides its debt woes, Spain is saddled with a nearly dormant economy and a 23 percent jobless rate.
Odyssey made an international splash in 2007 when it recovered the 594,000 coins and other artifacts from the Atlantic Ocean near the Straits of Gilbraltar.

At the time, experts said the coins could be worth as much as $500 million to collectors, which would have made it the richest shipwreck treasure in history.
The company said in earnings statements that it has spent $2.6 million salvaging, transporting, storing and conserving the treasure.
Odyssey fought Spain's claim to the treasure, arguing that the wreck was never positively identified as the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes.

And if it was that vessel, then the ship was on a commercial trade trip - not a sovereign mission - at the time it sank, meaning Spain would have no firm claim to the cargo, Odyssey argued.

International treaties generally hold that warships sunk in battle are protected from treasure seekers.
At the time, experts said the coins could be worth as much as $500 million to collectors, which would have made it the richest shipwreck treasure in history.
The Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes was sunk by British warships in the Atlantic while sailing back from South America with more than 200 people on board.


US firm forced to return Spanish shipwreck treasure it discovered worth more than $500m
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