‘Odyssey Explorer’ Intercepted, Forced to Port by Spain

As reported by CNN, Gibfocus, and the Guardian (with picture).

Odyssey Marine’s flagship, the Odyssey Explorer (OE), left its Gibraltar haven Tuesday morning October 16, only to be intercepted by Spanish Civil Guardia and Naval forces in a repeat of this summer’s seizing of Odyssey’s Ocean Alert.  Odyssey’s recovery of an estimated $500M of Spanish coins from the ocean floor has prompted Spain to claim ownership rights and interfere heavily with Odyssey operations. A related case is pending in Federal District Court in Tampa, Florida.

Unconfirmed reports suggested that OE had signaled its intention to proceed to the Spanish port of Algeciras for a voluntary inspection, but instead headed for international waters. This purported attempt at a ruse seems unlikely due to the certain presence of faster Spanish vessels. There are no coins on the ship, the same having been flown out of Gibraltar to a secure location in Florida months earlier.

Debate swirls over whether the OE was stopped in Spanish territorial waters or international waters (if in international waters, the seizure would be legally dubious). Charts showed the position of the seizure to be in recognized international waters, however Spain has long maintained a disputed claim over those waters – an element of longstanding territorial disputes with Gibraltar (a British overseas territory). Spain ceded control of Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, but today request the return of sovereignty. The UK immediately filed formal diplomatic objections.

Refusing to change course upon request, OE captain Sterling Vorus complied only upon the threat of deadly force. Earlier, an attempted boarding of the OE by Spanish security personnel was aborted when high swells hampered the operation. Numerous members of the media were on board the OE, and their accounts of events are now surfacing – their cameras and other equipment were confiscated.

Upon being forced to the port of Algerciras, captain Vorus refused to allow Spanish personnel on board, upon which refusal he was promptly arrested and provided the hospitality of a Spanish jail cell for the night (he was released the following day). The OE is being held indefinitely. The seizure follows months of its being virtually blockaded in Gibraltar.

More reports as events warrant.