The dispute between Odyssey Marine Exploration and Spain over a shipwreck which was sunk in the early 19th Century will now likely be headed for appeal. Federal District Court Judge Steven Merryday has issued an order that has adopted the Federal Magistrate’s Report and Recommendation. In his order Judge Merryday stated a separate opinion would “add only length and neither depth nor clarity (and certainly not finality) to this dispute.” Though this is a win for Spain, it also means the 11th circuit will now hear an appeal. Back in the Spring, federal Magistrate Pizzo held the Federal District Court lacked jurisdiction over the dispute and the property should be returned to Spain.
As I wrote then, though Odyssey Marine attempted to hide the true identity of the wreck, initially code-naming the wreck the Black Swan, there was enough information to conclude the coins came from the “Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes”, a warship which was carrying treasure back from Peru when it was sunk by the British off the Spanish coast in 1804. Spain, soon declared war on Great Britain, a point which may be lost in all this talk of the treasure. This treasure was an important piece of heritage, and all the talk of Odyssey’s share prices, and the rich treasure haul shouldn’t distract us from why these objects are protected, and why Spain fought so vigorously to have them declared the owner.This latest development then is not terribly surprising. The case involves some complex issues of international admiralty law, and half a billion dollars in gold and silver coins. It should be a fascinating appeal, as the 11th Circuit will set a precedent governing how these salvors can explore and remove historical objects from the ocean floor.
Odyssey Marine has a press release here.
James Thorner, Odyssey Marine’s treasure tangle with Spain moves to appeals court, St. Petersburg Times, Dec. 23, 2009.
Richard Mullins, Sunken treasure case headed to federal appeals court, Tampa Tribune, Dec. 23, 2009.