May 9, 2008

Spain Claims "Black Swan" is the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes

Yesterday, Spain filed papers before US Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo in the Federal District Court for the Central District of Florida. They argued the evidence provided to them by Odyssey Marine has been evaluated by Spanish archaeologists and that "with complete certainty" these objects came from the colonial galleon Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, sunk by the British in 1804.

In March, judge Pizzo ordered Odyssey to share information with the Spanish, Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. v. The Unidentified Shipwrecked Vessel, 2008 WL 691686 M.D.Fla.,2008. (March 12, 2008). Spain's announcement yesterday appears to be is response and evaluation fo this evidence provided by Odyssey. Despite attempting to with hold the location of the wreck, and even code-naming the find the Black Swan, Spain has seemingly established the identity of the vessel. James Goold, counsel for Spain argued "The mystery is over ... [the treasure] belongs to the Spanish Armada." Certainly, Spain is staking its claim to the moral high ground, as it apparently argued yesterday that it never authorized Odyssey to molest the "gravesite of hundreds of Spanish sailors and their family members."

Yesterday's filings don't yet appear to be available on Westlaw, but as I understand, Spain is arguing the Kingdom of Spain has not abandoned ownership rights in the vessel or the cargo. Further, Spain argues it has not permitted the salvage of its vessels without authorization. Spain is asserting its rights under sovereign immunity. As I've stated before,
under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, of 1976, Spain may be able to claim the coins, so long as the vessel was not engaged in commercial operations. This may lead to the strange situation where a determinative issue may involve Spain and Odyssey Marine arguing over the primary motive of a vessel and her crew which may have sank over two-hundred years ago.

None of this controversy seems to be helping Odyssey's stock price, which is down 22% this year. The finds may be worth as much as $500 million US, but its beginning to look increasingly likely that Spain is gaining the upper hand, and Odyssey may be in jeopardy of earning any salvage award.

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