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Spain claims all treasure from The Black Swan

Black Swan Treasure - 8 Reales Lima Peru Mint

MADRID, Spain: Spain laid formal claim Thursday to a shipwreck that yielded US$500 million (€324 million) in treasure, saying it has proof the vessel is Spanish and demanding that a U.S. deep-sea exploration firm that recovered the booty give it all back.

Culture Ministry officials said the 19th-century shipwreck at the heart of a year-old dispute with Odyssey Marine Exploration is the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes — a Spanish warship sunk by the British navy southwest of Portugal in 1804 with more than 200 people on board.

The Spanish government filed evidence Thursday backing up its claim with a U.S. federal judge hearing the case in Tampa, Florida, where Odyssey is based.
Washington-based lawyer James Goold, who represents the Spanish government in the case, said U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo would now convene the two parties to review the case before deciding who gets to keep the treasure.

“It is the property of the Spanish navy, government and people, and we want it all back,” said Admiral Teodoro de Leste Contreras, who runs a naval museum owned by the ministry.

Admiral Teodoro de Leste ContrerasGoold said at a news conference in Madrid that he expected Odyssey would keep “not a penny” of the salvage.

Spain argues the entire treasure should be returned because naval vessels never cease to be the property of the nation that flagged them, regardless of where they lay, under the principle of sovereign immunity, Goold said.

“Spain has not abandoned or otherwise relinquished in any way its ownership of Mercedes,” Spain argued in Thursday’s court filing.

Odyssey said it would issue a statement after reviewing Spain’s claim and the file provided Thursday to the U.S. court. But company officials has said in the past they believed the court would award them most of the treasure, as they had found it.

Odyssey announced in May 2007 it had discovered the wreck in the Atlantic and raised 500,000 silver coins and other artifacts worth an estimated US$500 million (€324 million). At the time it said it did not know what ship it was, and flew the booty back to Tampa without Spain’s knowledge from an airport on the British colony of Gibraltar, on Spain’s southwestern tip.

Spain went to the U.S. federal court claiming ownership of the treasure if it turned out to be connected to the country’s national heritage.

Goold said Spain’s evidence — based on material provided by Odyssey under court order — proved the ship and cargo were definitely Spanish property.

Naval and coin experts said they had proof the treasure, now held in a warehouse somewhere in Tampa, had come from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes. The coins included gold doubloons, or “pieces of eight,” minted in 1803 in Lima, Peru, bearing the image of Spain’s King Carlos IV, ministry coin expert Carmen Marcos said.

The Mercedes exploded and sank in a naval battle as it sailed back to Spain from South America.

Spain said in its court filing: “Analysis of location information from multiple sources confirms the location on the seabed from which Odyssey took coins and other artifacts is the site of Mercedes.”

It said artifacts on the seabed, their distribution and other characteristics, as well as artifacts taken by Odyssey “further identify the site as the remains of Mercedes.”

Odyssey also said the ship was probably the Mercedes, after Pizzo last month forced the company to disclose information on the salvage, including the identity of the ship and its location.

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  1. Mike | May 11, 2008 | Reply

    I think if Spain wanted it so badly they should have incurred the costs of a research and salvage operation.

    Worst case scenario should be a split or a token donation of some of the retrieved articles to a Spanish museum.

    My two cents.

  2. josie | May 13, 2008 | Reply

    Where did Spain get all those gold and silver.

    They can drill a hole in the coin and make a metal print in which country did Spain mine it.

  3. Potosi | May 30, 2008 | Reply

    A percentage of the earnings of any coin sales should go
    to impoverished Peru/Bolivia highlanders whose forefathers
    died in Colonial Spanish slavery mining the metals.

  4. Ana C. | Jul 21, 2008 | Reply

    Spain claimed that the theft of Peru, United States what they found .. PERU the country have more rights than those countries for being the place where they released those currencies. spain looted the peru in times of the colony, carried the riches such as gold, silver, etc. peru to spain.

    so we will not have found more to be returned to the true owner “PERU”

    PERU and takes over reenvolzar for costs of the exploration and salvage company Odyssey Marine unidense state Exploratio

    This I believe is the most fair and correct.
    Spain has no claim ..

    Perhaps the thief is entitled to claim the loot to be lost?
    At the time of dispensing justice .. what was not stolen returned to the owner of the stolen?

  5. Gustavo | Sep 20, 2008 | Reply

    Spain has no claim. You need to move your ass to get gold.
    Gold is for the discoverer and for Peru

  6. Scoot | Apr 2, 2009 | Reply

    I think that Spain had all the chance to help in the salvage of the Black Swan and they did not respond so it should be the law of the sea.

  7. MIKE FRIEL | Apr 3, 2009 | Reply


  8. Ken Kimmel | Apr 3, 2009 | Reply

    Quite so, the Spanish Gov’t was afforded several opportunities to be involved in the salvage operation(s) of the “Black Swan” but chose to do nothing! The people involved with the Odyssey Group bore all the expense and risk, and DESERVE what they’ve found! As far as Peru having any claims…why not have the decendents of the peoples whom the Romans enslaved file claims against the Italian Gov’t?? That would make about as much sense. Plus, the Spanish Navy was repeatedly in violation of International Maritime Law by stopping the Odyssey vessels in international waters. Their acts are no different than those of the Somali-based pirates. The Spanish ought to THANK the Odyssey folks for offering to salvage the historical artifacts found at the wreck site, and turn them over to the Spanish Gov’t. I hereby boycott Spanish goods/services in protest of their illegal actions!

  9. Dirk Gauche | Apr 11, 2009 | Reply

    If anyone finds for EITHER Peru (which has no claim as it would be the Norte Chico or Inca civilizations which were looted – not the Spanish founded and majority populated nation of Peru) or Spain (300+ years it sat in international waters and Spain was too lazy and disinterested to look for it? Besides, very little wreckage was found (military VESSELS remain the property of their governments forever, not the cargo their exploded remains leave scattered on the sea floor — this issue has been dealt with long ago)) the Odyssey should do the honorable thing; drop the lot into the Marianas trench, and tell the greedy government fat-cats in Spain and Peru to go fish for it.

    Odyssey took the risk, they paid the price, it’s their treasure. Period. Give Spain and Peru what they deserve (a bill for the Odyssey’s legal costs and time-off-work spent defending themselves against this idiocy)

  10. Lawrence | May 31, 2009 | Reply

    All the gold should be given back to those that it was stolen from. We supposedly honour the treaties of the north american native peoples in land claims. Germany is supposed to give back the works of art and gold stolen by the nazies.I know this is ridiculous but today we all relish doing what is right then why not. Instead we take from these poorer countries then blockade them. Give it all back to whom it once belonged.

  11. Mike H | Jul 10, 2009 | Reply

    The Spanish didnt do crap to FIND the wreck,Work the site or Conserve any of the artifacts and to say the Odessey doesnt have the right to any of the treasure is BULL COMPOST – Its all about the MONEY Not the History to them is what I see – The Spanish broke International Laws of the ocean and more , Before giving it back to Spain I wish the Odessey guys would take the treasure on a plane and DUMP the entire treasure over 5000 square miles OF OCEAN and the say to Spain- YOU WANT IT -GO GET IT- Make’s me sick -You can guess what part of the world I’ll never be visiting – Karma’s a “B” and may you *&%^$@#(**& spaniards’s get what’s coming to you -Peace and Viva La Bravo To You Bristish Chaps God Save The Queen !!!! I’m out!

  12. Tiger | Jul 11, 2009 | Reply

    well, the Odyssey should be given rights to at least pick up a canon or two for historical purposes for what ever country it belongs to and secondly acquire the plates and gold candle holder to lay the captain of that particular ship to rest finally instead of being lost at sea… as for the gold and silver, finders keepers. and it all comes down to how the silver and gold was made, mined, or even stolen… blood money. as i recall, centuries ago slavery was a norm, the Spanish government did not make the coins so they can claim it, give it back to the actual slaves who made them… to put those coins into show case… is a slap across generations of dead people who were forced to make them, were killed so the Spanish could have them in the first place… the Odyssey should melt all the gold and silver down and make it into a memorial for the slaves and the people who owned them before the Spanish coined them.

  13. rob | Jul 19, 2009 | Reply

    i see spain claimed all this treasure, how do we know that spain didnt steal all the silver and gold from some other country like they did when they ransacked the incans, why isnt spain giving back what they stole from them and melted and adorned there churches, that makes sense steal it and put it in a church, isnt that a sin. typical theiving spaniards. its ok until it happens to them.

  14. Andy Hirth | Jul 26, 2009 | Reply

    To the brave men on the Odyssey. my hat is off to you. keep up the good fight this is your lifes work and you guys are the best (I know) dont bow to the money grubbing country of Spain they where not interested till they knew all the booty was brought up they all ready knew what was there just needed some to do there dirty work (GOD SPEED)
    Odyssey will prevail.

  15. Pedro | Aug 31, 2009 | Reply

    Hang in there Odyssey you have the law on your side and the support of many people. As for the Spaniards go suck eggs amigos.

  16. Evo | Sep 17, 2009 | Reply

    This discussion is really kind of inane. If it were a US ship that was discovered by a Spanish company, you would all be screaming bloody murder about how the Spanish are stealing our important treasures.

    The fact of the matter is that who is entitled to it is a subtle and complicated matter that none of _us_ understands. I hope that it turns out in our favor in the end as much as any of you; but, please, have a modicum of humility and objectivity.

  17. CoinLink | Sep 17, 2009 | Reply

    Although I would agree that there needs to be a bit more civility in these discussions, one can have a rather visceral reaction surrounding the circumstances of the legal wrangling. If the Spanish government were so concerned about recovering all of this treasure littered across the seabed, they could take the financial risk and look for it themselves.

    At times it appears on the surface that both they and other countries are more than content to let private companies and treasure hunters do all of the hard lifting and take all the risk, only to swoop down with hoards of lawyers and claims of sovereignty and how their cultural heritage is being robbed from under their collective noses. It appears a bit disingenuous at times,

  18. Gordon | Oct 22, 2009 | Reply

    If they are ordered to hand it over to either to Spain or Peru I would scatter the full lot all over the sea bed and tell them to go and find it themselfs. Making sure that its not in the nice large clumps that is was found but making sure the coins are dropped singlely back into the sea.

    Good luck guys in keeping the treasure you deserve it.

  19. Pedro | Dec 24, 2009 | Reply

    I believe in part some of the loot (culture) go to museums around the world. Kinda like the movie National Treasure. The treasure was given to countries like Cairo and Egypt. In this case some should be given back to Spain and Peru to be displayed and even more countries in Europe. There is so much loot that museums to have such a small percentage would not hurt. Easy call. Good spending Odyssey crew. Enjoy your Endevors.

  20. Tom from NJ | Dec 25, 2009 | Reply

    Of course Spain would like to get a hold of the treasure but will an American judge be looney enough to give it to them?

  21. Tom from NJ | Dec 25, 2009 | Reply

    If the United States judge is crazy enough to except Spain’s claim what effect will that have on future expeditions? Does any government have plans to have it’s own recovery program or are important and valuable artifact supposed to lie on the sea floor forever because of a lack of financial motivation.

  22. john | Dec 25, 2009 | Reply

    Keep the loot Odyssay, it is yours. You spent all the time and money.
    If Spain, Peru, or anyone one else that thinks it is theirs – they may purchase at fair market value.

    The nazi artifacts are / were, different; those items were stolen. These were recovered; big difference.

    Spain and Peru can GO FISH !

  23. Ingrid | Dec 25, 2009 | Reply

    Is it correct that this issue has been previously decided? That a country like Spain does not ever lose ownership of a NAVAL vessel, but that they do not maintain ownership of the CARGO on that same vessel? If that is correct then it would seem that Spain has no standing in this case. They simply waited for someone else to do all the work AND put up all the money needed to finance the recovery expedition. This is an arrogant and contemptuous position for Spain to take. I find the comments about the rights of the native people of Bolivia and Peru to be interesting ones. It is true that Spain stole anything abd everything from native peoples all over South America. One can honestly say that the Spanish changed a part of human history when they invaded South America since they murdered millions of native people. Why did the Spanish murder these people? So that they could STEAL from them. If the Spanish enslaved natives in order to make them mine every last nugget of silver and gold from the natives’ own lands and then force them to hand over this wealth to the Spanish, then why would anyone think that Spain has a legitimate claim to these riches? In this case at least, Spain cannot claim that this treasure is theirs. Firstly, the silver and gold were stolen property and secondly, Spain did not even maintain custody of the stolen property. Their stolen loot was lost at sea as they tried to get away with it. Spain is wrong in two ways to claim any ownership of the treasure. Some cases in which people seek reparations are too long past and the current situation too entrenched and confused to detangle, giving African Americans money to make up for their forefathers having been enslaved, for example. But in this case, IN THIS CASE, the property was clearly stolen property and it was lost almost immediately. Ever since the day the Spanish ship sank the issue of ownership has been FROZEN IN TIME. The silver and gold were not taken to Spain and the value which they represented was NEVER absorbed into the Spanish economic system. This means that it is sensationally easy for the right thing to be done in this case. The property should go to the rightful owners, the native people of Peru and Bolivia. IT HAS BEEN THEIR PROPERTY ALL OF THESE 205 YEARS, whether it was at the bottom of the ocean or in the mines in the lands where it was created by nature. Reparations in this case would be easy to make. As for the salvage company which found and recovered the treasure, a finder’s fee of 10-20 percent would be fair. For Spain to say they want every penny is disgusting and hateful. I’m sure the money won’t go to the natives from whose forefathers it was taken, so even if Spain does prevail in this case, a finder’s fee to the Odyssey people would still be appropriate.

  24. Peter | Dec 25, 2009 | Reply

    The Spanish government is bottom feeding. This is political correctness gone stupid. They have not followed maritime laws of salvage. The property belongs to the Odyssey, they took the risk, and produced the goods. If the court is so short siighted, then tehy should have no probelm giving Mahattan back to the indegenious tribes of North America. The Gold Coins are “LOOT” taken by the Spanish, Spain has no further claim to it, it is like giving the bank robber the money from the vault after they get out of jail. Bad law, bad governments, bad news, bad for us.

  25. neilhowells | Jan 31, 2010 | Reply

    as the loot was was origanly stolen from south america it should be returned and salvage should be compensated the ship may be spanish but the contents were looted

  26. Steve | Jan 8, 2011 | Reply

    Ingrid, you have set forth the best scenario. However, it appears that none of these parties has fully clean skirts. The salvage company has been accused basically of looting wreck sites for private gain to the detriment of the human heritage. It also looks as though they’re concealing material facts which would determine the true identity of the salvaged ship. The Spanish did kill indigenous populations for plunder, thereby staining any moral claim to ownership they might like to make. The government of Peru did not commit any wrong here, but probably does not represent the exact descendants of the owners/exploiters of the mine at the time the Spanish seized control. Then we have legal considerations, such as whether title to the cargo does indeed remain with a lost warship.

    Perhaps the fairest solution is to award the salvors cost plus some premium or other. The Spanish declined to participate in the salvage effort, and was not conducting a parallel effort of their own. They cannot now lay claim to the entire fruits of the work of others. The Spanish and Peruvians can split the remainder, subject to the requirement that a generous share be placed in museums, more than one museum in each country, so that all people can share in what is after all a shared heritage. Although such a disposition would be arbitrary, the legal thicket is so tangled that if it is left to the courts (and which courts actually have jurisdiction, pray tell?), then 1) the disposition will not be fair; and 2) everyone alive at the time of the find will be dead before a disposition is determined.

  27. Deep Diver | Feb 9, 2011 | Reply

    Stuff it spain. Yeah,that’s a small “s”,and any country that tries to do what spain is doing by attempting to ROB any company that has put out 100%effort to make sure that every thing they are doing archeologicaly is as perfect as can possibly be.Now, lets see, if it is Nuestra Senora De La Mercedes she’s been laying on the bottom for over 200 years!Besides,all the gold and silver on board was STOLEN by spain in the first place!Now, a company with some BRASS you know whats discovers Her and suddenly spain drags itself up off it’s FAT BACKSIDE and wants it all?! They lost the ship,it’s in Intenational Waters.GUESS WHAT! What did the judge say at the final hearing for Mel Fisher on finding the Atocha and all Her treasure(oops,I said the “T” word) FINDERS KEEPERS!! That simple.SO,conquistadore,look back on your own robbing,raping,pillaging history.Remember the Spanish Main? SHUT UP and PAY UP!!! Ya couldn’t torture me into thinkin’ any different. GO ODYSSEY!!!

  28. mike | Feb 14, 2011 | Reply

    Nobody stole anything, according to international law, that wreck site was in open and international waters. Nobody knows what ship this is and regardless of where the ship originated, Odyssey found, and recovered the coins. They invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to recover said coins and made a LEGAL CLAIM to the wreck in court which was granted. You act like these guys went into Spain and stole money at gunpoint. These coins were on the bottom of the ocean for hundreds of years, nobody missed them or looked for them until these guys came along. Now its all about the money and spain is being greedy. You obviously comment without having any understanding of salvage law. I work with a guy that was on this crew. He lost his job because spain is tying this up in court for so long. Now he is out of a job that he loved and had to switch to the oil industry to pay the bills. GIVE ODYSSEY THE COINS! THEY FOUND THEM AND EARNED THEM. To hell with spain!

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