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Salvors Lose Round 2 Against Spain

The Daily Business Review has reported today that Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration has been ordered to turn over to the Spanish government 17 tons of silver coins and other treasure recovered from a sunken Spanish galleon in 2007. The ship, reportedly the NUESTRA SENORA DE LAS MERCEDES, was sunk by British warships in the Atlantic in 1804 while sailing from South America with more than 200 people on board. In May 2007, Odyssey announced that it had recovered more than 500,000 silver coins and other artifacts from the wreck and flew the treasure back to Tampa.

Spain went to federal court in Tampa claiming ownership over the treasure. Odyssey disputed the Spanish government's ownership of the valuable cargo. A federal judge sided with Spain in the first round of the tug-of-war in 2009, accepting the Spanish government's argument that it never surrendered ownership of the ship and its contents. Odyssey appealed before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The three-judge panel issued its ruling in favor of Spain in a case that could spill over to other treasure hunts for years to come.

Odyssey will now reportedly seek a hearing before all the judges of the Eleventh Circuit. If this request fails, Odyssey will need to seek U.S. Supreme Court review if it wishes to continue its "odyssey." Odyssey's position is that the wreck was never positively identified as the NUESTRA SENORA DE LAS MERCEDES and even if it is that vessel, the ship was on a commercial trade trip, not a sovereign mission at the time it sank. This means that Spain should have no firm claim to the booty. International treaties generally hold warships sunk in battle are protected from treasure seekers.

If you are interested in receiving a copy of the Eleventh Circuit decision or wish to reach me, you may do so by contacting me at miamipandi@comcast.net or at Houck Anderson at motero@houckanderson.com.

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