Odyssey Marine, Spain Dispute Treasures

Odyssey Marine Exploration's ground crew unloads more than 17 tons of silver coins. i i

Odyssey Marine Exploration's ground crew unloads more than 17 tons of silver coins, May 16, 2007. The Spanish government filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court against the American treasure-hunting firm over a shipwreck the company has found laden with a colonial-era treasure. Jonathan Blair/AP Photo/Odyssey Marine Exploration hide caption

itoggle caption Jonathan Blair/AP Photo/Odyssey Marine Exploration
Odyssey Marine Exploration's ground crew unloads more than 17 tons of silver coins.

Odyssey Marine Exploration's ground crew unloads more than 17 tons of silver coins, May 16, 2007. The Spanish government filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court against the American treasure-hunting firm over a shipwreck the company has found laden with a colonial-era treasure.

Jonathan Blair/AP Photo/Odyssey Marine Exploration

Spain and U.S.-based Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. are in a dispute over an estimated half-billion dollars in gold and silver.

The treasure was found when one of Odyssey Marine's salvage ships recovered a 19th century shipwreck in the Atlantic.

A publicly traded company, Odyssey Marine is dedicated to recovering treasure from the bottom of the sea. It has a track record too. Four years ago, Odyssey Marine discovered civil war-era wreck SS Republic, recovering some 50,000 coins and thousands of other valuable artifacts.

The dispute, playing out in federal court in Tampa Fla., where Odyssey Marine is based, ratcheted up last week after the captain of the Odyssey Explorer recovery vessel was intercepted and held overnight for questioning.

The company said that Sterling Vorus sailed his ship, the Odyssey Explorer, into Spanish waters from the British colony of Gibraltar off Spain's southern tip. He was held by Spain's Civil Guard in the port city of Algeciras after refusing to let officers board his ship.

The dispute began in May when Odyssey Marine announced finding a colonial-era shipwreck with thousands of ancient coins on board and brought the goods back to the United States.

But Spain filed claims in a U.S. federal court over the find, arguing that if the shipwrecked vessel was Spanish — or the treasure removed from its waters – then the treasure belonged to Spain.

It believes the treasure came from one of its warships, the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes. It's pressing the company in court to give up details.

Culture Minister Cesar Antonio Molina said the government views Odyssey Marine as modern-day pirates.

"There have always been navies, laws and the rule of law to help combat pirates," Molina told reporters.

Odyssey Marine insists the shipwreck — codenamed Black Swan — was in international waters, but has not given the exact location or the ship's name.

It also asked the court to keep the wreck's location a secret.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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