Sam Jones of the Guardian had an interesting article earlier this week updating the dispute between Spain and Odyssey Marine over the enormous shipwreck known as the Black Swan. Odyssey Marine recovered a massive amount of gold off the ocean floor, which may in fact be the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes. The dispute is currently pending in US Federal Court in Florida; the admiralty law of salvage will most likely dictate that Odyssey Marine will at the very least get to keep a substantial portion of their haul provided the wreck was found in international waters.
Now it seems Peru has made claims:
But Madrid and Odyssey are now facing growing calls from Peru for some, or all, of the Mercedes’ cargo to be returned to the South American country.
Peruvian campaigners say that because the gold and silver coins were probably minted from metal taken without permission by the Spaniards, they belong to the modern-day country, not its former colonial master.
Last year, Peru’s production minister, Rafael Rey, said it was only “logical” that his country would seek the treasure’s return.
Blanca Alva Guerrero, director of the defence of cultural patrimony at Peru’s National Institute of Culture, said: “If we can establish that some or all of the recovered artefacts came from Peru, we are ready to reclaim them as material remnants of our past.”
She added that Peru had a legal right to recover any items deemed part of its “cultural heritage”.
Mariana Mould de Pease, a Peruvian historian who has successfully campaigned to oblige Yale University to return hundreds of artefacts taken from the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, said that although Spain had “acted duplicitously, and – where necessary – brutally” during the colonial period, she hoped a deal could be reached. “Given the historical ties between the two countries, I think Peru should join Spain in taking part in the scientific recovery of the ship’s contents.”
She said that Italy’s recent success in securing the return of Roman items from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Museum in the US had “already influenced countries such as Peru when it comes to taking legal action founded on cultural restitution”.
Spain, however, has so far dismissed the Peruvian claim, saying that the Mercedes was sailing under a Spanish flag and pointing out that Peru did not exist as a country in 1804.
This appears to be nothing of substance backing this up. I do not see any way in which Peru could intervene in the dispute between Spain and Odyssey Marine. Perhaps others are aware of this kind of thing working in other contexts, but as vile as the conquistadors may have been, they weren’t dealing with a legal entity or nation as they understood it. Peru did not exist when this gold was taken.
Also, many will of course note that the agreement between Yale and Peru is hardly a done deal, despite the fact its probably about as good a deal as Peru could get under the circumstances.
I’m also surprised at how the Italian repatriation successes of recent years are continuing to appear in circumstances which are wholly unrelated. The Odyssey project, as flawed as some may believe it was, appears completely legal, and is a far cry from the looting which the Italian repatriations were responding too.