$500 million “Black Swan” treasure flies to Spain

Gold coins from "Black Swan" treasureWhen earlier this month a federal circuit judge ordered Odyssey Marine Exploration to return the vast treasure recovered from the shipwreck code-named “Black Swan” to Spain, I assumed they’d appeal the ruling to a higher court. That’s what they’ve done every other time a judgement went against them in the five years since they first retrieved the gold and silver coins from the Atlantic seabed in May of 2007. I was wrong.

Odyssey did make one last claim in court, but it was already a form of capitulation: they asked that the Spanish government reimburse them $412,814 for storage and preservation costs. On February 18th, US District Court Judge Mark Pizzo denied the claim and ordered the company to grant Spain access to the treasure this week so they could prepare it for transport. Odyssey announced that it would no longer contest Spain’s ownership of the treasure.

Peru isn’t giving up so easily.

On Thursday, the Peruvian government made an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to block transfer of the treasure to give that nation more time to make arguments in federal court about its claim to being the rightful owner.

Peru says the gold and silver was mined, refined and minted in that country, which at the time was part of the Spanish empire. The appeal was directed to Justice Clarence Thomas, who did not indicate when he would respond.

Probably because he’s not gonna. Anyway it’s too late now.

"Black Swan" treasure loaded on Spanish military cargo planeOn Thursday evening, two Spanish military Hercules transport planes were loaded with 494,000 silver coins, 100,000 gold coins and assorted artifacts Odyssey Marine delivered to MacDill Air Force Base from their secured storage facility in Sarasota. The treasure of the “Black Swan,” aka the frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes which sank off the coast of Portugal in 1804, is now winging its way to Spain.

Spanish officials counted and weighed the treasure before loading it on the planes. Odyssey actually lowballed the discovery when they announced they had found 17 tons of gold and silver. The total weight was 49,000 pounds, or 24.5 tons. Despite Spain’s floundering economy, massive debt and 23% unemployment, the coins will not be sold or, heaven forfend, melted down. As cultural patrimony, the treasure must by law be preserved intact. The current plan is to divide the coins and display them at a number of museums in Spain.

There’s footage of the cargo being loaded onto the planes and Spanish Ambassador Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo’s tarmac statement in this local news story:

21 thoughts on “$500 million “Black Swan” treasure flies to Spain

  1. Gasp!!! The system worked!!! How very…disorienting! Sorry, John A., but Odyssey Marine might have been able to cut a better deal at the outset if they had operated in an open and honest way. Maybe they learned a lesson about the rule of law?

    1. I found it amusing to see Odyssey complain that the ruling will discourage finders from reporting Spanish treasure because they’ll be skeered they won’t get to keep it, so instead they’ll just sell it on the black market or melt it down. Yes, they actually said that. The fact that Odyssey didn’t report the find to Spain, deliberately obfuscated its provenance and secretly spirited it out of Gibraltar apparently didn’t strike them as ironic.

  2. Postscript: Since Spain is planning to divide the Mercedes treasure among various museums (there is, of course, an argument to be made for keeping it all together in one place), it might be appropriate to offer a long-term loan to a museum in Peru–if Spain was reasonably confident about maintaining real ownership. Pity that the Museo de Oro del Perù in Lima is such a bad joke!

    1. That’s a downright sensible idea. I do hope that Spain displays the treasure together in all its glory at least once. That’s probably unlikely, though, more because of the challenges of preservation than because they want to split up the hoard. The coins are still being kept in liquid solutions. Whatever number of them are in stable enough condition to be exhibited, it’s a fraction of the total, I’m sure.

  3. Can’t believe Peru was left out. Even after Spain admitted that most of the treasure belonged to merchants and not to Spain. The only thing Spain owned 100% was the ship. So how can judges rule in Spain’s favor? Either they did them a favor or their on something. Either way I believe Peru and decendents of the merchants will bring this to an international court and win their case there. hopefully justice and logic prevail here.

  4. The rule of law also states returning stolen or lost items to their rightful owners, which Spain is not. Can’t apply the law to one group and to another you don’t.

  5. So its like saying if your not a citizen in the country you live in you don’t have rights. Just because Peru wasn’t registered as a nation with the modern world at the time doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or doesn’t have rights. The American Indians weren’t registered with the modern world so most of their land was taken. And who made these laws? The same countries that give them the legal right to take or claim land, gold, silver etc. Of course the laws will say this otherwise we would be giving back all the united states back to the Indians .

  6. Where did you read that the merchants were compensated.? I’ve read that the spanish govt admitted most of the treasure wasn’t theirs. But no mention the govt said they compensated the merchants. At the time Spain was ruled by kings so no govt existed. But if you say is true then the decendents of that king who compensated the merchants or the insurance company are the rightful owners of that treasure.

  7. Despite of your thoughts, at kings time there were laws that strictly met. The documentation (from General Archive of the Indies) that proves it was presented in court.

    Regarding the case of Peru, no matter what you think is more fair, but what follows the law. Peru did not exist as a legal entity then so can not make any claim.

  8. Pilar del Campo Hernán, jefa del archivo del Museo Naval relata: “De los archivos históricos de la Armada salieron los documentos claves para desenmascarar la tesis de Odyssey, Otro aspecto vital fue la demostración de que los familiares de las víctimas de la fragata, hundida el 5 de octubre de 1804 por buques de guerra británicos, habían percibido indemnizaciones, incluidos los comerciantes que viajaban con monedas. Los archivos probaron que todas las familias fueron compensadas en su momento”.

  9. For shame, the Odyssey Marine team, found it, brought it to the
    surface, (which very few ships could do) processed the coins in an
    delicate, historical fashion. It took many man hours, money and
    equipment to do this. Then to have it taken away from you?
    How about a $100 million finders fee to start?
    No wonder there are people who melt valuable coins or artifacts down,
    the justice system fails. International waters? Anybody? Bueller?
    Captain Jack Spero

  10. First of all, nobody asked Odyssey to come to remove the coins. Historical fashion? Really? They have destroyed the flotsam only to find things to sell and profit without obtaining any archaeological data.

    thieves and pirates!

  11. The find was made in international waters.The ship was commercial not military so Spain nor anyone else has any claim whatsoever. Odyssey Marine and their shareholders have every right to any treasure found. They invited the Spanish to participate in every aspect of the project and their invitations went unanswered. Odyssey Marine operated in accordance to maritime law and got back doored by the U.S. State Department over a painting looted by the Nazi’s that was in a Spanish museum. Thanks to someone named Clinton some more Americans get screwed.

  12. Golden Rule: Them that have the gold, make the rules.

    Compared to Odyssey, Spain has the gold.

    If there were any justice in this world, the money would be used to protect the natural environment and assist the indigenous peoples of Peru.

  13. I no longer see the show on discovery its to bad they did all the work they should have got half atleast for being honest.i really miss the show hope it comes back on tv soon.

  14. If I had been odyssey I would have said kiss our !@# and went and thrown every dam thing back in the ocean. If spain wants them let them spend the millions to discover them and go fish them up.

  15. :cool:And there was I thinking tat a frigate was a navel vessel, Odyssey Marine would have been very happy to steal the treasure from Spain if they had got away with it,

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