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US treasure hunters given time to object to Spain claim
10 June 2009
Agence France Presse

A US federal judge on Wednesday gave treasure hunting firm Odyssey until July 6 to challenge a court ruling ordering it to hand over treasures recovered from a Spanish ship wreck to Spain.

The Tampa, Florida-based company had been ordered to turn over half a million silver coins and hundreds of gold objects it discovered somewhere in "international waters in the Atlantic Ocean."

The discovery of the sunken treasure, from a ship code-named "Black Swan," was announced in 2007.

Spain in September 2008 said it had proof that the treasure came from the 1804 wreck of a Spanish frigate named Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes.

The ship, which sank off southern Portugal with a massive cargo of gold and silver, is Spain's "historical patrimony and also constitutes the tomb of 250 seamen and Spanish citizens," the government argued.

Spain said the frigate was covered under the principle of "sovereign immunity" that applies to ships belonging to states as well as to wrecks, and which bars "unauthorized intrusion or exploitation for commercial ends," according to Spain's culture ministry.

"(The) evidence is clear," Odyssey's top legal adviser Melinda MacConnel said in a statement Wednesday, "that the majority of coin cargo being transported on the Mercedes belonged to private merchants," so that portion of the cargo "never belonged to the Spanish government."

The earlier court ruling also "fails to acknowledge the absence of a vessel at the Black Swan site or the commercial nature of the Mercedes' mission at the time of her demise, which would legally nullify the claim to sovereign immunity on that vessel," the statement read.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., which focuses on salvaging deep-water shipwrecks, is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
 

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Divers rescue part of sunken gold in South Atlantic
15 July 2009
Agence France Presse

Part of a 9.4-tonne (8.5-ton) shipment of gold and silver aboard the Polar Mist ship that disappeared off Argentina's coast in January has been rescued, the OPI news agency reported.

Divers from the C-Sailor tugboat, tasked with the rescue, recovered the first of nine baskets of the precious cargo on the ocean bottom Tuesday, the Patagonian Santa Cruz province news agency OPI said, citing a source close to the matter.

The ill-fated vessel sank on January 18 at a depth of 80 meters (262 feet), around 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Santa Cruz coast in circumstances that remain unclear with a cargo estimated to be worth 17.6 million dollars.

After months of negotiations between the shipment's owners and insurers, the C-Sailor located the wreck on June 23 and confirmed the cargo was still aboard.

The tugboat, which has returned to the coast, will sail again on Sunday from the southern port of Punta Quilla to rescue the baskets of gold and silver ingots. Divers are expected to recover all of the shipment within 10 to 20 days, barring inclement weather in the Strait of Magellan, the source said.

The Polar Mist left Punta Quilla on January 14, carrying 9.4 tonnes of gold and silver belonging to two mining groups from the area, Cerro Vanguardia, which owned 7 tonnes, and the Minera Triton, owner of the remaining 2.4 tonnes.

The ship was scheduled to make a stop in Punta Arenas, a port in Chile's southern tip, and then head north to Santiago. The load was then scheduled to be flown from the Chilean capital to Switzerland.

But a day into the trip, the vessel was caught in a powerful storm.

The eight people aboard -- seven crew members and a passenger -- were rescued by the Argentine navy, leaving the ship adrift for 24 hours until the Chilean tugboat Beagle arrived on the scene to make an unsuccessful recovery attempt.

The ship's disappearance was not reported until a month later, when a federal judge in Santa Cruz ordered an inquiry.

The first recovery attempt was suspended in April after crew and marine employee unions demanded a premium for working on the operation, which was expected to cost two million dollars.

The British insurance company Lloyd's, which insured the cargo, then hired Dutch recovery company Mammoet to locate the ship. Mammoet in turn contracted C-Sailor for the job.
 
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