Like a salty sea captain sensing a storm over the horizon, you could feel this coming. Spain has launched the first salvo in what’s sure to be a no-quarter brawl over ownership rights to an estimated $500M in 17th-century gold and silver coins recovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration (a publicly traded treasure-hunting firm) from a secret site in the Atlantic reportedly 40 miles off the English coast.
This morning Odyssey released a statement to the effect that media reports of a lawsuit being filed are false, but this smacks of putting the best spin on Spain’s recent maneuvers. Odyssey’s legal guns have been loaded for a fight to the finish from the get-go:
If we are able to confirm that some other entity has a legitimate legal claim to this shipwreck when – and if – the identity is confirmed, we intend to provide legal notice to any and all potential claimants. Even if another entity is able to prove that it has an ownership interest in the shipwreck and/or cargo and that they had not legally abandoned the shipwreck, Odyssey would apply for a salvage award from the Admiralty Court. In cases such as this, salvors are typically awarded up to 90% of the recovery. (Odyssey, May 21)
The only document filed is a Verified Claim stating that the Spanish Government does not intend to give up property rights… (From the May 31 press release quibbling over the reports of a lawsuit)
Spain is all dressed up and readying the boarding parties, it’s plain to see:
Tello [Spain’s Culture Ministry spokeswoman] said the Kingdom of Spain is represented by the U.S law firm Covington & Burling, which have represented Spain over shipwreck cases before, involving the recovery of material from two ships, Juno and La Galga, in a 2000 court case. The Spanish government won the case at that time. (From CNN’s AP piece)
As time allows I’ll post updates and more detailed information on this swashbuckling legal free-for-all on (and under) the high seas.