The Florida-based ocean salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration scooped a trove of gold and silver coins with an estimated value of over $500 mln from the ocean bed in 2007 and secretly flew it out on a cargo plane from Gibraltar, The Telegraph reported.
The NASDAQ-listed company claimed to have hauled the 17 tonnes of coins from an unidentifiable sunken galleon, they mysteriously dubbed the “Black Swan”, arguing it was found in international waters and therefore subject to the principle of “finders-keepers”.
The find sparked a furious reaction from the Spanish government who insisted it had been looted from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish frigate that was sunk by a British squadron off Cape St Mary, Portugal in October 1804.
Spain sent its navy to seize Odyssey’s exploration vessels and even threatened to open fire on the “21st century pirates” when they entered Spanish waters.
When a judge in a Tampa court ruled in 2009 that the haul had most likely come from the Mercedes and should be returned to Spain, it marked the start of a series of legal appeals and counter-appeals as the company fought to retain its prize.
But on Tuesday, January 31 Atlanta’s Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a motion from Odyssey to stay an earlier decision ordering the company to turn over the hoard to Spain.
Spain’s Ambassador to Washington, the only official yet to comment on the victory, said the riches could be returned to Spain within days.
“What is important is that the sentence should now be carried out and the coins returned to our country very soon,” said Jorge Dezcallar.
In an indication that Odyssey Marine Exploration was not ready to admit defeat and would seek further appeals, possibly even to the US Supreme Court, a spokesman said: “Currently, no final order has been issued in the case and it would be premature to comment at this time.”