Odyssey Marine vs. Spain (Update)

It’s been a slow fortnight for the Odyssey v. Spain story. Since my last report, Odyssey’s ship, the Ocean Alert, was released from the custody of Spanish authorities, whose most interesting offense was the confiscation of an Odyssey lawyer’s laptop.

Another Odyssey ship, the Odyssey Explorer, remains blockaded in Gibraltar, unwilling to sail out into the teeth of the waiting Guardia Civil.

Though the 500,000 coins Odyssey recovered from the seabed have been long since placed in 2800 container-buckets and whisked away from Gibraltar by air to Odyssey’s Florida offices (to the chagrin of Spanish authorities), the Merchant Royal blog recently reported that a small collection of personal artifacts recovered missed the flight due to packaging problems and are being maintained in a Gibraltar warehouse:

Among them are a coal briquette, pieces of a sextant, ceramics and a number of personal items. All could potentially yield valuable information about the wrecks they came from.

The issue of the nationality of the sunken ship is huge, because if it is proved to be Spanish then Odyssey’s legal hurdles to ownership of the loot become much higher, as I discussed in case-parsing detail here.  Consequently, the artifacts are of intense interest to the investigating Spanish Judge (presumed author of the infamously elusive search warrant), who has appealed to Gibraltar authorities for cooperation (always an adventure in the contentious world of Gibraltar-Spain relations):

Separately a judge in La Linea is investigating whether Odyssey breached Spanish heritage laws by recovering items in Spanish waters, an allegation the company firmly denies. On Monday the judge made a formal request to the Gibraltar Government for legal assistance in the investigation. The judge wants authorities in Gibraltar to prevent Odyssey from removing any artefacts either from its ship or from the Rock.

On the New World side of the legal front, things have been relatively quiet. On August 6, Odyssey filed amended complaints in three admiralty arrest actions (for wrecks at different seafloor sites) pending in Federal District Court (Middle District of Florida). According to an Odyssey press release:

As part of the amended complaints, the Kingdom of Spain has been added as a defendant in all three cases, with Odyssey seeking compensation for losses sustained through Spain’s recent actions obstructing Odyssey’s ability to conduct operations. Odyssey is seeking not only relief in the form of a set-off of any award Spain may ultimately receive on any shipwreck, but also affirmative relief for damages caused by Spain’s interference with Odyssey’s rights to all three sites. In its pleadings Odyssey refers to the activities in Spain during the past months regarding the illegal boarding and seizure of Odyssey’s survey vessel, the Ocean Alert and the continued illegal effective blockade of the Company’s archaeological recovery vessel, the Odyssey Explorer.

That about brings us up to speed, whereupon, interest piqued again and eager for more, we collide with a wall of dead stop. More reports, live-blogged in real time, as they happen.

B