Odyssey case: American court confirms underwater treasure belongs to Spain

Atlanta, 27 September 2011, Art Media Agency (AMA).

The Court of Atlanta has decided in favour of Spain in the case against the American commercial exploration organisation, Odyssey Marine Exploration. The two parties have been in a legal dispute, lasting several years, over the ownership of a Spanish battleship named “Nuestra Senora de la Mercedes”. The ship in question, which was sunk by the British army just off of Gibraltar in 1804, contained gold and silver coins worth $500,000.

Spain declared that the wreckage belonged to them as it was a Spanish warship that left for battle on Spanish territorial waters and, as such, under the principle of “sovereign immunity”. This principle was taken from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Spain and the United States have both signed. It states that warships must be returned to their country of origin, regardless of where they were discovered. The organisation Odyssey argued that it was a trade ship sailing towards Peru and claimed it was their property as they had found it in international waters.

However, the entire discovery will be returned to Spain, as, on 21 September, the Court of Atlanta decided in the country’s favour, believing that the wreckage was, in fact, a warship. The Odyssey society wishes to appeal against the decision.