Spain Should Get Shipwreck Treasure from Odyssey, Says Judge

by Mike Unser on June 5, 2009 · 13 comments

Spain v. Odyssey Legal DisputeDeep seas, adventure, mystery, suspense and a battle over who owns a sunken treasure… they are the trappings of an action-adventure blockbuster that could make hundreds of millions. But this is no movie plot. The treasure is real — possibly worth some $500 million — and a battle over its ownership wages on, but now at another level.

500 million Colonial-era gold and silver coins belonged to the sunken Spanish warship Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes and should be returned to Spain, a U.S. judge said this week.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, a deep-sea treasure-hunting firm based in Tampa, Florida, discovered the shipwrecked treasure in international waters about 100 miles west of the Straits of Gibraltar — a site Odyssey code-named "Black Swan." Soon after the March 2007 discovery, Spain laid claim to the 17-ton coin hoard, demanding its return and sparking a near two-year legal battle. A page in that battle has been turned.

U.S. Federal Court Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo on Wednesday said the Court lacked jurisdiction in the case. Additionally, he believes the site of the treasure find was indeed that of the Mercedes, which is subject to sovereign immunity.


"The debris field’s location, coins, cannons and artifacts persuasively match the Mercedes historical record," wrote Pizzo.


Pizzo suggested that all artifacts be turned over to Spain within 10 days.


"I’m very surprised," Greg Stemm, Odyssey’s CEO, said in a statement. "Odyssey has done everything by the book. For the Court to find that enough evidence exists to conclusively identify the site as the Mercedes and that neither Odyssey nor the claimants who owned the property have any legal interest is just wrong.

I’m confident that ultimately the judge or the appellate court will see the legal and evidentiary flaws in Spain’s claim, and we’ll be back to argue the merits of the case."


Spain naturally welcomed Pizzo’s decision.


"I am delighted that the judge has ruled that the ship belongs to Spain and the treasure belongs to Spain. It is a very important decision," Spanish Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde was quoted on Reuters.


Odyssey on Thursday reaffirmed it would appeal a ruling requiring forfeiture of the coins and that Pizzo’s recommendation is "far from the end of the “Black Swan” case."

Judge Mark A. Pizzo’s written recommendation follows:

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris June 5, 2009 at 1:36 pm

A suggestion for the Odyssey: Dump the treasure back where they found it and let Spain pick it up. If they want it soo bad, let them invest the time, materials and manpower to bring it up.

Subodh June 9, 2009 at 2:16 am

Sir, This decision is unhjustful for the treasure hunters. Spain knew about the ship wreckage and did nothing about it. It was the Odyssey which spent resources and took the treasure out. this decision is against spirit of entreprenureship.

William Keeney June 10, 2009 at 12:13 pm

WHY does Spain get the treasure??? They stole it from the Indians of Central and South America, after the raped, plundered and slaughtered thousands of the true owners of treasure???

manuel July 10, 2009 at 9:16 pm

The powerful always rules.
So the us will keep the treasure.
Internatinal Law can be interpret in many ways.
The rigth thing to do is return it to South America
where it came from(stolen by invasion of spain to peru etc)
But again the powerful rules!!!!

Patrick McDonald August 9, 2009 at 9:04 am

The treasure find was accomplished by John Edwards and Ballard joint venture with the Odyssey. It was not a state of Spain affair for Spain to lay their hands on the salvage. Edwards crew found it and pulled it up off the ocean floor. The Marine law states during a commercial engagement; if a ship or cargo is lost at sea; those who recover it get to keep it. The salvage belonged to John Edwards and his crew. What is this a diplomatic sell out? Is the judge crooked? Fema wears a blind fold as she weighs the balance of evidence on her scales. i recall many a coin dealer taking what i had and giving me nothing for it after they had run down my coin collection….some slight of hand….some by bold trickery. It is done all the time. Edwards got his teeth kicked in when they stole his treasure. Welcome to the club John. Its a thieving world under the cloak of authority and halo crowned creepy thieving ordained coin liars.

Marian August 19, 2009 at 10:57 am

So if it was illegal for Edwards to keep the gold how was it was legal for him to explore and bring it up? Did the Spanish government think that he was going to risk life and limb and millions of dollars to turn it over to them? This is one of the most underhanded and illegal international conspiracies……………don’t create emenies for the USA while exploiting an American who goes by the letter of the International Maritime Laws and get screwed for it.
All this coming from a country that exploited the Indians of Peru and the Americas including the new world, and only since 1978 have they became a supposed democracy.

Joe September 29, 2009 at 9:01 am

I agree with everyone that’s posted, the discovery channel has done a excellent job of exposing the extent of the current Spanish ternary.

The entire Spanish argument goes out the window when it’s established they had no idea where the treasure is/was.

Perhaps they rather fishing trawlers keep dragging and dispersing around everything else that’s down in the depths.

Hugo Lago September 30, 2009 at 3:41 pm

What rights could Spain have? The brutally steal it from the Indians. The claim from Spain to the treasure is repugnant.
If the ones from the Odysee are pirates, the Spanish are thieves and steal it from the Indians in the first place, by means of slavery an force labor. And as the Spanish proverb says: “The one that steal from a thief got one hundred years of forgiveness”.
If the coins are a cultural heritage of Spain, Does it mean that the killing of millions of Indians is also a cultural heritage?

If we were to solve this upon moral issues…only the Indians could have any ethical or moral rights the treasure was their work and sweet the one that produced it in the first place . For the rest, the one that recover it, take it.

Juan Sánchez December 23, 2009 at 11:58 am

So, if Odyssey gets the treasure, will they return it to the indians ? Why aren’t the Odyssey arguments repugnant ? They want just $. They are a private enterprise, playing with a cultural item. Isn’t this repugnant ? The expoliation is by your side now. Spain is claiming a part of our history, which was certainly bloody (as the US one : you have the indians in reserves, those who survived the ethnic cleansing). Plus, think about Spain discovering any american treasure, via private enterprise, and aiming to do business with it. How would you react ?

Antonio Mellado December 24, 2009 at 10:22 am

If Spanish are thieves, Yankees are killers because they exterminated 95% of the native population of North America. The remains now live in “reserves” like jews in concentration camps. USA cannot give lessons to anybody on respect to the aborigens. 200 men, women and children died in this ship, and Odyssey stole the gold destroying their tombs. What USA wolud think if a spanish company were violating the Battleship USS Arizona in Pearl Harbour to extract the steel?.

Mark December 25, 2009 at 7:47 pm

If this case were to be decided on ethical grounds, and it’s unlikely that it will be so decided, Spain would be the last party to receive any of this ill-gotten treasure, having savagely pillaged it from the indigenous people of South America. I would like to see the salvage company reimbursed for their expenses and given a handsome profit, and then the treasure should be returned to the country or countries from which it was stolen.

mike March 23, 2011 at 10:49 am

Another American judge on the take.In the documents from wikileaks it clearly states that our courts will give Spain the coins for some back room dealings>>>”It wasn’t a fair confrontation, according to leaked documents released by WikiLeaks.

London’s Guardian newspaper, one of the news organizations which receive the cables directly from WikiLeaks, reported that U.S. officials offered to help Spain in the court fight over the sunken treasure.”
In exchange, they asked assistance for returning a valuable Impressionist painting looted by the Nazis during WWII.
My family over the years of this nations history fought for this NOT to be able to happen in America!

HoLeeCrap June 4, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Pearl Harbor is Territorial US Waters, not subject to salvage laws. Think before you speak. This treasure and any future finds in International water should belong to the Odyssey.

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