The government of Peru announced it will join the dispute between US treasure-hunting company Odyssey Marine Exploration and Spanish authorities. The dispute involves 500 million US dollars in gold and silver coins rescued from a Spanish galleon off the coast of Portugal. Bolivia has also approached the Spanish government on the issue.
Foreign Affairs minister Jose Antonio García Belaunde said Peru it will appeal against the ruling of the federal court in Tampa (Florida) which requires the US company to return to Madrid the gold and silver coins arguing they were processed and minted in Peru during colonial times, according to Andina news agency.
Odyssey President Gregg Stemm and Vice President and General Counsel of the company, Melinda MacConnel, anticipated in a statement Odyssey will also present appeals to resolve the dispute before it faces the Spanish Government.
Last Tuesday December 22nd the US District Judge filed an order backing a magistrate court’s June decision that the salvage reportedly should be returned to Spain. The decision was brought as a result of Spain’s suit seeking the treasure believing it to be recovered from the Spanish warship “Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes”.
Odyssey Marine Exploration recovered the coins from the ocean floor nearly 100 miles west of the Strait of Gibraltar in international waters and disputes Spain’s claim, going so far as to recognize the possibility that it did not come from the “Mercedes”. They have code-named the project Black Swan and have been holding the 17-ton recovery pending the outcome of the litigation.
According to Spain, the “Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes” was sunk by British gunboats in 1804 as it was returning from Peru loaded with treasure. Judge Steven Merryday in his order said that “the ineffable truth of this case is that the Mercedes is a naval vessel of Spain and that the wreck of this naval vessel, the vessel’s cargo, and any human remains are the natural and legal patrimony of Spain, stated Judge Steven Merryday in his order.
Odyssey for its part released a statement regarding the decision which said in part: Judge Merryday’s ruling serves to move this case to the appellate court faster, where we feel confident that the legal issues are clearly in our favour. We will file our notice of appeal with the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Florida and Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals within the required time and look forward to presenting our case in that forum”.
Meantime the Bolivian government approached Spain suggesting sharing the recovered treasure since it presumes the coins were minted at the Casa de la Moneda Potosi.
“Bolivia has informed both Odyssey and the Spanish government that we would like a numismatic expert to identify the origin of the recovered treasure and that it should be shared with institutions such as the Casa de la Moneda de Potosí”, said Bolivian Minister of Culture Pablo Groux.
“Once we have the numismatic expert’s opinion we will have a sufficient degree of certainty and legitimacy for the Bolivian state to make a proposal to Spain, which we hope will be received accordingly”, added Groux.
During Spanish colonial times Potosí was under the jurisdiction of the viceroyship in Lima, Peru. Potosí was also famous for its precious metals particularly a hill with an extraordinarily high content of silver.
Groux said it will wait for the rulings on the appeals (from Odyssey and Peru) to try and establish “some kind of formal agreement with Spain”, avoiding the courts.
“We have no interest in litigating with Spain, which could very well consider the discovery a shared cultural patrimony”, suggested the Bolivian official.