Continuing a series of legal steps, challenges and hurdles, Odyssey Marine Exploration has recently filed it’s reply to Spain’s response in the highly contested "Black Swan" case. This is expected to be the end of the written pleadings for the matter which is currently before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, Georgia.
At stake in the matter is ownership of a recovered sunken treasure consisting of an estimated 500,000 gold and silver coins. Believed to be valued at around $500 million, the recovery has peaked the interest of many since it was first announced back in 2007. The issue was contentious from almost the start with Spain initiating a seizure of one of Odyssey’s vessels back in July of 2007, claiming that Odyssey was engaged in an "offence against Spanish historic heritage."
Despite the ship being first searched, but then released, the matter was far from over and another seizure occurred later in the year. Prior to those events, the sunken treasure had been recovered and flown to an undisclosed location in the United States where Odyssey is said to have legally imported the contents and made a filing with the U.S. District Court which allowed legitimate claimants to the treasure to make themselves known.
Odyssey has said it does not know with certainty what ship the treasure came from, as there was no vessel and the findings were discovered directly on the sea floor. Despite that, several countries have expressed interest in the matter. Most notably, Spain and Peru, believing the treasure is from the shipwreck of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which was sunk by British warships in 1804. It was thought to be carrying valuables from the Spanish colonial territory of Peru back to Spain.
Accordingly, the two relevant countries filed motions in the US court system seeking ownership. Odyssey, for its part, has been actively fighting the legal matter, most recently in its appellate reply challenging claims by Spain in the "Black Swan" case.
In that reply, Odyssey makes the following statements:
- there was no vessel and there were no human remains located at the "Black Swan" site;
- Odyssey acted legally and appropriately in the recovery of the "Black Swan" artifacts;
- evidence, including accounts from Spain’s "experts" and Spain’s own contemporaneous diplomatic communications, prove that the Mercedes (the vessel Spain associates with the site) was on a commercial mission on her final voyage — a fact that legally voids Spain’s claim of immunity under settled international law and conventions;
- a distinction between cargo and vessel is allowed and even required by settled admiralty law; and according to the manifest of the Mercedes, the vast majority of cargo on board did not even belong to Spain — even Spain concedes the cargo was "articles of Spanish citizens."
At the heart of the matter is the fact that even if the treasure is from the Mercedes, Odyssey believes unequivocally that the ship was on a commercial voyage rendering its contents open to salvage law. Had it been on an official mission for the government, like a warship, then the matter could be interpreted otherwise.
"A majority of Spain’s filing focused on vilifying Odyssey’s work, despite the fact that we conduct our operations to the highest archaeological standards. Spain’s accusations are unsupported and even contradicted by their own ‘story’ and documents," said Greg Stemm, CEO of Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. "We continue to believe that justice and the rule of law will ultimately prevail and hope for an amicable resolution in this case so that the true history and significance of this find can be shared with all of the legitimate claimants as well as the public."
Odyssey plans to continue to fight the challenge for the foreseeable future.