Odyssey’s Black Swan Named Sunken Coin Treasure Lands in Spain

by Darrin Lee Unser on February 27, 2012 · 15 comments

Spain v. Odyssey Legal Dispute

A story lasting over five years involving 17-tons of sunken coin treasure and legal battles is apparently ending. Spanish officials are now processing 500,000-plus gold and (mostly) silver coins along with other objects recovered from the ocean floor.

This follows a federal judge ruling last week ordering the estimated $500 million worth of recovered treasure to be turned over to Spain by Odyssey Marine Exploration (http://www.shipwreck.net), based in Tampa, Florida. Odyssey had discovered the shipwrecked treasure in 2007 in international waters about 100 miles west of the Straits of Gibraltar.

The Odyssey project, code-named "Black Swan," quickly gained international attention. While Odyssey never confirmed the name of the shipwreck indicating a lack of evidence, many believed it to be that of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy). The Mercedes was in route from Portugal to Spain when it was sunk by British warships in 1804.

After recovery, the treasure was temporarily stored in Gibraltar before most of it was moved to Florida. Spain took immediate steps in the matter, going so far as seizing two Odyssey vessels and subjecting them to searches.

Spain then turned to the U.S. court system which repeatedly ruled in the sovereign nation’s favor. A position apparently supported by the U.S. State Department given WikiLeaks revelations. Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court refused to overturn lower court decisions which stated the treasure belonged to Spain. Odyssey was also denied a request to be reimbursed for preservation and storage of the treasure.

"Spain has been very short-sighted in this case," Melinda J. MacConnel, vice president and general counsel for Odyssey, said in a statement. "They have not considered the high cost of storage and conservation of these coins, but more importantly they have failed to consider that in the future no one will be incentivized to report underwater finds. Anything found with a potential Spanish interest will be hidden or even worse, melted down or sold on eBay."

Two military transport planes were sent from the Spanish Air Force to Florida for shipment of the Black Swan treasure to Spain. Reports indicate that the bounty of gold and silver coins landed in Madrid on Saturday.

"Today a journey that began 200 years ago is finally ending. We are recovering a historical legacy and a treasure. This is not money. This is historical heritage," Spain’s ambassador to the United States, Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo, was reported as saying as the planes took off.

And if losing the treasure through U.S. Courts was not aggravating enough for Odyssey, more legal issues are apparently forthcoming. In La Linea de la Concepción, a Spanish town on the border with Gibraltar, a criminal lawsuit was filed against Odyssey for damages to Spain’s historical patrimony as well as illegal trafficking of historical items.

"We need criminal sanctions so as to set a strong precedent and ensure that such activities that destroy archaeological patrimony cannot be repeated," 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."

Earlier this month, Odyssey announced its agreement with the British Maritime Heritage Foundation to excavate and conserve an even richer treasure from the legendary HMS Victory warship which sank in 1744. Odyssey discovered the HMS Victory shipwreck site in 2008.

"We are honored to work with the Maritime Heritage Foundation on the Victory project, an important piece of British naval heritage. Since our discovery of HMS Victory, we’ve continued to monitor the site and have sadly noted significant changes to the site including four ton cannon that have been dragged and damaged, as well as the illicit recovery of a cannon by another salvor, signs that the idea of preserving the site in situ is clearly not practical," Greg Stemm, Odyssey CEO, said in a statement. "We plan a phased approach which will include an initial non-disturbance survey and expect to begin the archaeological excavation as soon as practical."

The value of HMS Victory’s treasure could be double that of the Black Swan with its possible three to four tons of gold coins. The ship was considered the greatest in the world at the time of her sinking.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Just Cause February 27, 2012 at 12:57 pm

I feel for the Odyssey Group on this one. Talk about a HUGE pill to swallow. They got screwed, royally! Not to mention the Wikileaks crap about the US Gov having closed doors “deals”. That really puts mud in the face of the US Gov.
Spain 1 – US 0

John S February 27, 2012 at 1:26 pm

This sucks big time. The Spanish are blood sucking thieves.They sit back, make all sorts of claims, do nothing to recover anything on their own, then have a dumb as nails judge side with them. At the very least the expenses of the Recovery team should have been paid. This will cause all the crooked recovery people to not report their finds. Ever !

M February 29, 2012 at 3:52 am

He’s right future finds of Spanish ships will never be reported. I suggest Spain buy a search vessel like Oddyssys and get to work fore others find them.

Rob March 4, 2012 at 5:49 am

Plain and simple the government of Spain declared war on Odyssey Marine.
And won.
This was really about Spain going bankrupt to the global banking system so Spain had to rob anyone inorder to pay back the criminal banking cartel.
They were next to follow Greece. The tragedy is that the gov. of the usa was in on the theft.
Oddysy! next time park the loot on board the vessal at sea until legal matters are resolved, if not, dump the stuff overboard.

Jaun Valdez March 5, 2012 at 8:01 am

The fix was clearly in. The wikileaks cable proves it. Shame on you US government!

Mahlon March 6, 2012 at 12:59 am

The Spanish don’t even have the technical capability, ie: ROV’s, to even discover such a wreck nor recover anything from it. That they forced an American ship on the high seas, in international waters, into their port – and jailed the captain – is nothing short of piracy. That they interned, for all intents and purposes, the American ships for months, was also a violation of international law.

What makes this all really outrageous is that the Hillary Clinton led State Department cut a back room deal to give the Spaniards the treasure in exchange for a Nazi looted painting they had in their posession. That the fix was in only came to light when Wikileaks turned that rock over and exposed the underhanded machinizations of our State Dept to sunlight.

R.J. April 24, 2012 at 8:37 am

I am deeply saddened that the hard-working crew of the Odyssey spent five months stranded away from their families, the Captain was arrested, their rights were clearly violated by the Spanish Naval officers, and their clearly rightful claim to treasure found aboard a ship in international waters carrying the cargo of many merchants (not a commissioned ship which would invoke the sovereign exception) was stolen from them by a pirate nation.

Shame on you Spain !!! and shame on the backroom politics from the U.S. as well !!!

Tristan September 1, 2012 at 4:13 am

maybe the odyssey team should think twice before messing with other countries property, just because it’s a shipwreck does not mean that it’s just up for grabs, not all countries have the same laws as the us, plus the us will want rights to there own shipwrecks. the oddssey team is 100% for profit any ways so who gives a shit, boo hoo hoo

Rob October 28, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I can not understand if the treasure was found in international waters, the manifest etc and that the Odyssey found it and did all the work and got royally screwed. Shame on the US state dept and your back door deals ! i guess the next piece of equipment installed on the ship will be a smelter

Tom January 14, 2013 at 12:55 pm

This was and remains a travesty! Shame on the US Government and all those who participated in this gross legal deception. Where has the the legal & moral reward for being an honest business enterprise gone? God Bless the Odyssey and their employees and all who practice Honesty and Integrity, for our government and foreign governments will not!

Ll February 24, 2013 at 9:18 pm

The Spanish looted the gold and silver from Central and South America, and they have the balls to claim their “historical heritage” was damaged?! What about the Incan’s heritage?

I hope every salvage vessel that finds Spanish treasure in the future melts it all down. Destroy their “heritage”. Destroy the evidence.

Robert W Steinberg July 10, 2013 at 11:54 am

No matter how the Spanish and American governments want to skew this, the facts speak for themselves. The identity of the ship was never confirmed therefore the treasure belongs to the Odyssey. The best we can hope for is that all Spanish ships falter in International waters and have to agree to Lloyd’s Open Forum and then we stick it up their behind. This is a theft clear and simple. The Spanish Government broke the law, the U.S. Government condoned it thus making themselves a party to aiding and abetting in a theft.

Mary August 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Actually rob, Spanish banks haven’t been rescued and spain has the largest bank in Europe. It is national heritage. They should have made a deal with the Spanish government before taking it out of the water. I’m sure then they would have gotten paid

Mary August 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Really LI? You want to talk about looting? So the US didn’t take land from the native americans? The uk didn’t pillage spanish ships? All of Europe didn’t take from Africa, the America’s etc. at what point in history do we stop? The odyssey should have contacted the Spanish government and struck a deal before pulling the find up to the surface, the Spanish wouldn’t have had a choice but to pay the odyssey since they don’t have the means to do it themselves, unfortunately the odyssey skipped a few steps and got screwed. Shit happens

Gary January 17, 2014 at 2:43 am

Spain robbed odyssey, plain and simple.
1. odyssey researched, found, recovered, and preserved the treasure. spain did nothing.
2. the treasure was found in international waters, nullifying spain’s “sovereignty”. Further, the treasure was originally robbed from the people of peru by spain (it just happened to get sunk in transit). the treasure was laying on the bottom of the ocean for two hundred years, lost to history, what happened to basic common sense regarding salvage?
3. After the treasure was recovered, spain offered nothing for recovery, transport, conservation, or storage expenses. spain just demanded 100% of the treasure back.
4. after winning in US court (which was obviously rigged by the state department, read wikileaks cablegate), spain demanded that odyssey pay $1 million in lawyer fees (in addition to delivering 100% of the treasure) to spain!
5. spain constantly harassed odyssey ships in international waters. spain did nothing less than piracy by forcing the odyssey ship captain to Spanish port, and detaining the ship and crew. forcing the odyssey ships at gun point to be forcibly searched? nothing short of piracy by spain. odyssey should have ignored spainish demands, and just kept going (they were after all in international waters), and they had done nothing wrong.
6. For future reference, now when ever a salvage group discovers treasure that spain could even remotely claim, it will be sold on the grey market or melted down. Now, no sane salvage recovery group will ever treat spainish treasure with respect, it will most likely just get melted down, and spain will ultimately lose the “cultural heritage”.
7. Spain acted like a bunch of childish greedy thugs, (why not give odyssey a “finders fee”?, or even a small reimbursement for recovery expenses?), no wonder spain is bankrupt. I have ultimately lost a LOT of respect for spain after reading about all of this, and will NEVER travel to spain on tourism, buy anything “made in spain” and I really have a very low opinion of spain’s government now. And to think the U.S. gives aid to spain? I sure dont want my tax dollars going to help support that government!

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