Spain formally laid claim Thursday to an 1804 shipwreck that yielded a reported U.S. $500 million treasure, saying Spain has proof the vessel was Spanish.
Officials demanded the return of the booty recovered last year by a U.S. deep-sea exploration firm, saying the 19th-century shipwreck at the heart of the dispute is the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes—a Spanish warship sunk by the British Navy southwest of Portugal in 1804 with more than 200 people on board.
Tampa, Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration on Thursday disputed Spain's claim. In May 2007, Odyssey announced that it had discovered a wreck in the Atlantic—and its cargo of 500,000 silver coins and other artifacts worth an estimated $500 million.
At the time, Odyssey said it did not know which ship it was. The company flew the treasures back to Florida without Spain's knowledge, from an airport on the British colony of Gibraltar on Spain's southwestern tip.
The company said Thursday that there isn't enough evidence to prove the vessel is the Mercedes. Officials said in a company statement that they had found only cargo from a shipwreck, not the actual vessel.
The Spanish government filed evidence in a Tampa federal court Thursday to support its claim.
(Related: "Shipwreck Treasure's Fate a Toss-Up, Experts Say" [May 24, 2007].)
"We Want It All Back"
"We are talking about the remains of a Spanish Navy vessel and the human remains of Spanish naval servicemen who died on board, which have been illegally disturbed," Culture Ministry Director General José Jiménez said.
"It is the property of the Spanish Navy, government, and people, and we want it all back," said Adm. Teodoro de Leste Contreras, who runs a naval museum owned by the ministry.
Washington, D.C.-based lawyer James Goold, representing the Spanish government in the case, said U.S. Judge Mark Pizzo will convene the two parties to review the case before deciding who gets to keep the treasure.
Goold said at a Madrid news conference that he expected Odyssey would keep "not a penny" of the salvage.