Spain called. It wants its tons of gold and silver back.

Underwater treasure hunting is big business nowadays, with companies like Odyssey Marine Exploration making huge profits on shipwreck finds. Most recently, Odyssey scored 17 tons of silver and gold coin (an estimated $500 million value) from a ship it has codenamed Black Swan.

The company won’t share the ship name or location, to spare this inestimable archaelogical find from crass looters who wouldn’t love it as tenderly as they do, donchaknow.

Here they are tenderly loving 17 tons of coin off a plane to store at an undisclosed location. An undisclosed location of love:

Anyhoozle, Spain is suspicious. They think the ship is Spanish and have filed suit to force Odyssey to cough up the info so they can claim the wreck and all its goodies back for Spain.

The problem is, Spain has spent a couple of centuries not giving a rat’s ass about the thousands of specie-laden ships decorating the ocean floor, so it may be too little too late for Spain to claim ownership, even to protect its cultural patrimony.

Past Spanish attempts to stop the extraction of treasure from Spanish ships have foundered on the country’s own lack of energy in protecting underwater sites.

In 1983, a Florida court ruled that treasure-hunter Mel Fischer was entitled to keep the booty he found at the site of the sunken ship Santa Margarita because “the ship was abandoned … and the Spanish government hasn’t expressed interest in declaring itself a successive owner.”

The Ministry of Culture is determined not to let that happen again. Its new Plan for Subaquatic Archaeology calls for a comprehensive mapping of known shipwreck sites, and requires that important ones be granted protected status just like historic churches and monuments.

Even if the plan does work, however, it will only apply to sites within Spanish territorial waters, and that territory is hellasmaller now than it was when them silver ships were cruising the oceans, giving the superfluous third sons of British and French nobility a fun new hobby in the form of “privateering”.null

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6 Comments »

Comment by wei yau
2007-12-18 19:16:38

Fascinating read. I never realized that countries could lay claim to recovered loot.

I’m not sure how I feel about that, I mean these treasure hunters spend a lot of time and money in recovering the loot, so they kinda earned it.

OTOH, I keep thinking that there should be some kind of legal claim.

 
Comment by livius drusus
2007-12-18 19:23:37

Underwater loot is usually finders keepers, as long as it’s in international waters. Things get trickier in territorial waters, but either way, when a country starts getting antsy about the scattering of its cultural patrimony it inevitably finds some legal means to pursue the case.

I’ll have to do a post about the whole Getty situation in Italy.

 
Comment by Anonymous
2009-12-25 12:50:11

Spain was never shy about plundering treasure from the Americas. I wonder how Spain would react to paying that back?

Comment by livius drusus
2009-12-25 18:13:45

Good point. I suspect they wouldn’t react at all well.

 
 
Comment by John
2009-12-25 15:43:03

This doesn’t look like it was made in the Americas. Was this a west bound ship delivering to the Americas?

There wasn’t gold in the Americas to plunder.

What’s all that about?

Gold wasn’t discovered or mined until well into the 1800′s.

Comment by livius drusus
2009-12-25 18:16:32

You’re thinking of North America. Latin America was full of gold and silver. Since Christopher Columbus, Spain had been the number one importer of American gold. It was famous for its gold and silver ships, which is why British pirates targeted Spanish shipping under Elizabeth. That piracy became a major factor in Philip II’s decision to send the Armada to take her down.

 
 
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