Archaeological artefacts recovered from a controversial wreck and stored in a warehouse in Gibraltar were handed to Spanish authorities this week. The items were recovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration in 2007 from the wreck of “Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes”, a Spanish galleon that sank off Portugal in 1804.
But around 300 silver coins of varying quality still remain in Gibraltar and are the subject of an ongoing legal dispute over ownership. The artefacts and coins were part of a larger 17 ton haul recovered by Odyssey while its ships were based in Gibraltar.
The operation caused outrage in Spain and led to a legal wrangle in the US that ended earlier this year when a Florida judge ordered the treasure to be handed to Spanish authorities. Once the main bulk of the coins were in Spain, attention focused on a small number of items stored in Gibraltar since 2007.
Spain asked for those final items to be returned but before anything could happen to that end, a legal claim was filed in the Supreme Court by South American descendants of merchants who owned the cargo on the galleon when it sank. The coins still in Gibraltar are now the subject of a legal dispute that has yet to be resolved.
The items handed to Spanish authorities, however, did not form part of that claim. They included artefacts such as cufflinks and a sextant recovered from the seabed.
The handover was carried out in the presence of lawyers for the various parties, including James Goold, the US lawyer representing Spain, and Daniel Feetham, who acts for the South American claimants, as well lawyers representing the Gibraltar Government.
Aladar Nesser, Odyssey’s director of international relations, was also present.
“All the archaeological artefacts that are not subject to arrest have been handed over in accordance with the order of the US admiralty court,” Mr Nesser.