Appeals court finds against treasure hunters Odyssey Marine in sunken-gold case

A Tampa treasure hunting company lost another battle Wednesday in its fight to lay claim to $500 million in silver and gold it found at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 2007.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by the U.S. District Court, dismissing Odyssey Marine Exploration's case involving the so-called "Black Swan" treasure. The three-judge panel affirmed that the U.S. federal courts do not have jurisdiction over the treasure and that it should be released to Spain.

"The decision is a complete victory for a principle that should never have been disputed — the so-called 'treasure' that was taken by a U.S. company from a sunken warship of the Kingdom of Spain must be returned to Spain," Jim Goold counsel to the Kingdom of Spain said in a statement.

The court noted that the treasure is part of the shipwreck Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish vessel that perished in 1804. But the judges did not say whether the treasure itself belonged to Spain.

"The shipwreck of the Mercedes is thus unquestionably the property of Spain," the court opinion states. However, it did not say that the recovered treasure "is ultimately Spanish property."

Odyssey says it is requesting the full 12-judge panel of the 11th Circuit hear the case. Despite the court's opinion that the coins should be released to Spain, Odyssey will retain possession of them at least until appeals are complete.

The company's stock price fell 33 percent Wednesday from $3.24 to $2.16.

"While we were surprised by the ruling and are obviously not pleased with the opinion, there is no near-term economic impact on the company. …," said Mark Gordon, president and chief operating officer of Odyssey Marine. "Since the original adverse ruling in the 'Black Swan' case, we have developed numerous shipwreck projects and opportunities to move the company forward."

Appeals court finds against treasure hunters Odyssey Marine in sunken-gold case 09/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 22, 2011 2:58pm]

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