Odyssey Marine surrenders ‘Black Swan’ treasure to Spain

It looks as if the 5 year legal battle between US company Odyssey Marine Exploration and the Spanish government over the ‘Black Swan’ treasure is finally coming to an end.  As I mentioned previously

Browsing through the Odyssey Marine press archive brings an update on their previous big find.  Also mentioned in my earlier post

 Odyssey is currently being sued by the Spanish government over a previous treasure of “17 tonnes of silver coins plus a few hundred gold coins”, discovered at a wreck in 2007, and shipped to the US.

In response the Spanish government has repeatedly intercepted Odyssey vessels. Interestingly Odyssey are disputing Spain’s claim of ‘sovereign immunity’ for that wreck, also found in international waters.

The latest news on the Odyssey Marine website on the ‘Black Swan’ hoard, now identified as the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish vessel that perished in 1804, is that they are still fighting a 2009 US court order which directed Odyssey to return the property to Spain.

The provisional estimated value of those “17 tonnes of silver coins plus a few hundred gold coins” [$500m (£253m)] from the Mercedes was disputed by Odyssey Marine days after it was initially reported.

At the start of this month I noted that the Spanish government had announced that Odyssey Marine had been ordered to return the treasure haul.  At the time Odyssey Marine indicated a further appeal might be forthcoming.

But as the BBC now reports

The coins arrived at an airbase at Torrejon de Ardoz, north of Madrid, on Saturday afternoon in two military transport planes.

Spain’s ambassador to the US was watching as two Spanish military cargo planes took off at 12:30EST (17:30 GMT) from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

They carried the 594,000 coins and other artefacts.

“This is history. We bear witness to that fateful day 200 years ago,” Ambassador Jorge Dezcallar de Mazar said. “This is not money. This is historical heritage.”

The Odyssey Marine website notes

In an order issued January 31, 2012, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied the company’s motion for a stay of mandate, which would have delayed execution of the order for release of the property to Spain.  Odyssey then filed an Emergency Motion for Stay with the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the release until the high Court could consider the Company’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the case.  Justice Clarence Thomas denied the request to stay the mandate, and subsequently, the Eleventh Circuit issued a mandate to the district court.  On February 17, 2012 the district court entered its order to Odyssey to provide an inventory of artifacts and to release to Spain the artifacts within its jurisdiction to Spain on February 24, 2012, which has been done.  Odyssey intends to file its Petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on or before February 27, 2012.

However, as they’ve argued previously

“It is certainly reasonable to assume that should the cargo recovered by Odyssey be transferred to Spain, it will never be returned,” the exploration company had argued before the appeals court.

And the BBC report adds

Despite an ongoing battle with high unemployment and debt concerns, Spain’s Culture Ministry has ruled out the idea of the treasure being sold to pay off the country’s national debt, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Instead the coins will be exhibited in Spanish museums.

Peru made an emergency appeal to the US Supreme Court on Thursday, stating its own claim on the coins on the basis that they were mined and minted in the country while it was part of the Spanish empire.

But that claim was turned down by Judge Clarence Thomas on Friday, AP reported.

Meanwhile, a different treasure hunting company, Sub Sea Research, have identified the location of a World War II British merchant ship, the SS Port Nicholson, which they believe may contain $3billion (£1.9billion) in platinum – BBC video report here.  As separate BBC report notes,

The Port Nicholson, a British merchant ship, was torpedoed by a German U-boat in an attack that killed six people.

Some have expressed doubts the wreck holds platinum, and maritime law would complicate ownership claims.

Anthony Shusta, an attorney representing the British government, says it is unclear if the ship ever carried platinum.

“We’re still researching what was on the vessel,” Mr Shusta told the Associated Press news agency. “Our initial research indicated it was mostly machinery and military stores.”

The United Kingdom will wait until salvage operations begin before deciding whether to file a claim on the cargo, he added.

Interestingly, The Old Salt Blog has a distinct feeling of déjà vu…  all over again.