Spain Seizes the Ocean Explorer

An intrepid commenter has alerted me that Spain has in fact seized the Ocean Explorer, the vessel belonging to Odyssey Marine which had been anchored in the British colony of Gibraltar. It’s the latest in an ongoing dispute between the salvage company and Spain over perhaps the largest single underwater recovery in history. The BBC has coverage here.

On Tuesday, patrol boats from Spain’s maritime police intercepted the 76m Odyssey Explorer, owned by underwater salvage firm Odyssey Marine International, three miles off the coast of Gibraltar. It was ordered to the Spanish port of Algeciras for inspection. Spain’s Guardia Civil has been keeping a close eye on the company’s vessel since a Spanish judge ordered that it be detained and searched if it left port in Gibraltar. The company says its recovery vessel has been effectively blockaded since the ruling in June. Spain believes it could provide clues to the identity and location of the wreck that yielded half-a-million colonial era silver and gold coins. It suspects that a Spanish galleon is being secretly plundered – or that the wreck lies in Spanish waters.

This is the predictable result when there is no workable international legal framework governing underwater archaeological sites, combined with the failure of states to delimit their maritime boundaries. As I’ve stated before, whether the waters near Gibraltar are international is still very much an open question.

Perhaps most importantly, Odyssey may have discovered the largest ever quantity of shipwrecked “treasure”, but it seems Spain is going to do everything in their power to prevent the company from profiting off the recovery; in the hopes perhaps of discouraging future salvage operations. Is this merely profit-seeking, or is there archaeological research being conducted? The fact that the wreck has been code-named the “black swan” and has not been revealed to Spain or other nations in the Mediterranean indicates the former.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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