Make us your home page

Odyssey Marine Exploration stock drops as judge rules it may lose treasure to Spain

TAMPA — After a two-year trans-Atlantic legal duel, a federal judge urged Odyssey Marine Exploration to hand over millions of dollars in sunken treasure to the Spanish government.

But the Tampa deep-sea salvager said Thursday it will fight the court's recommendation to restore 594,000 coins worth $500 million to Spain.

Odyssey, the world's only publicly traded company devoted to undersea treasure hunting, saw its stock drop 43 percent in a day. Its shares ended trading Thursday at $2.21.

Odyssey has tussled with Spain over ownership of the mostly silver trove that weighs 17 tons. It's part of the so-called Black Swan find announced in May 2007 and stashed in a vault somewhere in Central Florida.

In an ruling Wednesday, federal Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo said Spain is the rightful owner of the treasure once carried by the Spanish navy frigate Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes.

A British squadron sunk the Mercedes in international waters off Portugal in 1804. Spain planned to use the precious coins to help finance Napoleonic France's war against Great Britain.

After Odyssey flew the treasure back to Tampa in 550 white plastic buckets, Spanish officials called the company's employees a gang of pirates. Twice in the months after the 2007 announcement, Spain's Civil Guard seized Odyssey ships off the Spanish coast. They were released.

"We are very happy," Spanish Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde said Thursday. "This decision is very important. I am glad the judge has really seen that the ship and the treasure belong to Spain."

Odyssey chief executive Greg Stemm planned to keep fighting. Another federal judge will consider Pizzo's recommendation and make a ruling.

"This case addresses some very significant legal issues, so in the beginning it became fairly clear it was going to go to the appellate court," Stemm said.

In his recommendation, Pizzo reaffirmed a nation's right to the wreckage of its sovereign warships. Spain never abandoned its claim to the vessel, and Pizzo noted that the United States protects its sunken warships.

The judge also rebuffed an attempt by Peru to get a share of the loot. Much of the silver came from South America, but in 1804 Peru was a Spanish colony, not an independent nation.

Twenty-five descendants of merchants who were transporting cargo on the ship also want a piece.

Odyssey has been salvaging heavily in European waters. In February, it announced the discovery of the HMS Victory, a British man-of-war that sank in the English Channel 264 years ago. Odyssey said it is looking for the 4 tons of gold coins that might have been aboard.

Relations with the British government have been more cordial. Before finding the Victory, Odyssey had already negotiated a loot-sharing plan with the British over the HMS Sussex.

The British agreed to split the proceeds from the 300-year-old gold-laden ship if Odyssey found it in the western Mediterranean.

The company's work is featured in an 11-part Discovery Channel series called Treasure Quest.

Times staff writer James Thorner contributed to this report, which uses information from the Associated Press and Times files.

Odyssey Marine Exploration stock drops as judge rules it may lose treasure to Spain 06/04/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 5, 2009 6:26am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, wire reports.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Walmart expands grocery delivery service to Tampa


    TAMPA — Walmart is expanding its grocery delivery service to Tampa, the company announced Monday. Five locations will offer delivery for online grocery orders.

    Walmart is expanding its grocery delivery to Tampa, the company announced Monday. | [Times file photo]
  2. Marina at Hudson Beach poised to become 24-unit condominium-hotel


    HUDSON — One of the mainstay businesses at Hudson Beach is poised for redevelopment into a 24-unit condominium-hotel.

  3. Have your say Tampa Bay on the region's future transit options

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — It's time, yet again, for Tampa Bay residents to tell officials what kind of transit options they want for their region.

    The Cross-Bay Ferry docks at the Tampa Convention Center on its maiden voyage on Nov. 1, 2016. A regional premium transit study will determine whether a ferry, or other options such as express buses or light rail, would be a good addition to Tampa Bay. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]
  4. SOCom seeks civilian drone pilots to develop new technology through ThunderDrone


    TAMPA — For the last three years, Nicole Abbett has been using drones as part of her photography business, with clients like the city of Tampa and construction companies.

    Josh Newby, 31, Palm Harbor, of Tampa Drones fly's a drone in England Brothers park, Pinellas Park, 8/25/16. As drone popularity increases as a hobby and business, local governments are navigating a legal grey area- where, when, and how should drone flights be allowed?
  5. New apartment complex delivers unique floor plans


    RIVERVIEW — A new luxury apartment community has opened in the Progress Village area touting itself as a distinct living option just 10 miles from downtown Tampa.

    Alta at Magnolia Park dubs its new apartment community, that opened earlier this year in Riverview, a modern and distinct option for living just 10 miles from downtown Tampa.