Sunday, June 10, 2012

Odyssey Marine and the Lost Spanish Treasure (OMEX)

Back in September '11 we looked at one of Odyssey's projects "Odyssey Marine Exploration Looks to Recover 240 Tons of Silver in Largest-ever Marine Salvage Find (OMEX)".
Here's another, from Bloomberg:
Before dawn on Feb. 16, a semitrailer truck left a secret, well-protected compound outside Sarasota, Fla., loaded with nearly nine tons of 200-year-old silver coins. Three U.S. Marshals and a security detail hired by the government of Spain guarded the truck on its 60-mile drive to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. There, U.S. airmen unloaded it so the truck could return to Sarasota for the rest of the coins. In all, 17 tons of coins, packed into 551 white plastic buckets, were transferred to two Spanish C130 Hercules military planes. The planes took off the next afternoon and arrived at the Torrejon Air Base in Madrid 28 hours later.
On board one of the planes was James Goold, a slightly rumpled American lawyer who represented the Spanish government in a five-year fight to reclaim the coins lost to the sea two centuries ago. “When we landed, I was in a daze,” says Goold. He had barely slept. There were no real seats, and he was too worked up to rest anyway. The coins, still in the buckets, were put into four armored trucks for the drive into Madrid. Police on motorcycles blocked off the highway. Helicopters flew overhead. The coins were brought to the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture; the building, constructed as a bank, had vaults where they could be stored. “Finally, the coins were back, and I was free,” says Goold.

In 2007, unloading the coins in Florida 
AP Photo In 2007, unloading the coins in Florida

The 594,000 silver coins, as well as a couple hundred gold ones, had been recovered in the spring of 2007 from a Spanish shipwreck by Odyssey Marine Exploration (OMEX), an American deep-sea treasure hunting company based in Tampa. Odyssey had hidden the coins, which could be worth as much as a half billion dollars, while it argued with the Spanish government over who owned them. It was a bitter fight waged in a federal court on U.S. soil. The two sides even tussled over the five-gallon buckets used to transport the coins. Spain finally agreed to pay Odyssey $20 for each one. That’s all that Odyssey has received for its $2.6 million search-and-salvage operation.

 Under international maritime law, if a wreck is found to be a warship sunk while on duty, its cargo remains the property of the ship’s country of origin. Spain said Odyssey had taken the coins, as well as some artifacts, from the remains of the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a 34-gun frigate that was attacked and sunk by the British navy off the coast of Portugal in 1804. After the loss, King Carlos IV joined the Napoleonic Wars, fighting against Britain, a decision with disastrous consequences for Spain...MORE 
HT: Longform