“Black Swan” Treasure Debate – Odyssey vs. Spain

Mike Schuler
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July 22, 2009


The Florida based deep-sea exploration firm, Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. has filed objections to a June 3, 2009 Report and Recommendation in the “Black Swan” Admiralty case.  The judges recommendation… that Odyssey Marine give the 17 tons of gold that they found at a 200 year old shipwreck site back to Spain – the believed owners of the sunken vessel.  The treasure is worth an estimated $500 million.

In May 2007, Odyssey Marine announced the discovery of the “Black Swan,” a Colonial period site located in the Atlantic Ocean. Yielding over 500,000 silver coins weighing more than 17 tons, hundreds of gold coins, worked gold, and other artifacts, it is believed to be the largest collection of coins ever excavated from a deep-ocean site.  While there is no coherent vessel located at the “Black Swan” site, it is believed to be remains of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish galleon which exploded in battle and sank in the Atlantic Ocean west of Portugal in 1804, claiming the lives of 200 people.
Odyssey’s Objections to the recommendation include arguments that:

  1. The applied legal standard of review is incorrect.
  2. There is no coherent vessel located at the “Black Swan” site.
  3. There is clear and convincing evidence of the commercial nature of the Mercedes’ mission at the time of her demise which Odyssey believes legally nullifies the claim to sovereign immunity of that vessel.
  4. A distinction between cargo and vessel is allowed and even required by settled admiralty law.
  5. The majority of the coins aboard the Mercedes were merchant-owned, commercial cargo being shipped as freight for a fee and were never owned by Spain.

“We know that admiralty law is complex, and the facts of this case are unique. I believe that the recommendation missed some key issues, and we have underscored those in our objection. We are confident that the facts and applicable law are in our favor,” said Melinda MacConnel, Vice President and General Counsel for Odyssey Marine Exploration.

Odyssey’s complete “Objections to the June 3, 2009 Report and Recommendation” is available HERE. Objections have also been separately filed by many descendants of the merchants who owned the private cargo on the Mercedes, arguing that the cargo never belonged to Spain, and that Odyssey was within its rights to recover coins on behalf of the true owners.

Read more about the “Black Swan” Project HERE

Odyssey Marine Exploration Homepage

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