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Tampa's Odyssey Marine identifies two wrecks in court

Nearly a year after Odyssey Marine Exploration recovered roughly $500-million in coins from a shipwreck it code-named "Black Swan," the Tampa treasure-hunting company has finally gone public with the ship's suspected identity.

Odyssey said Thursday that evidence may point to the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes y las Animas, a Spanish ship that sank near Gibraltar in 1804. The disclosure — filed under seal in Tampa federal court this week but subsequently unsealed by Magistrate Judge Mark A. Pizzo — should have little impact on the protracted legal battle between Odyssey and the government of Spain as to who owns the vessel's treasure.

But it could play havoc with the company's stock price as investors and news reporters around the globe speculate on how the court battle plays out.

The Mercedes wasn't the only wreck Odyssey tentatively identified Thursday. The company said it believes a ship it found near the English Channel in 2006 may be the Merchant Royal, a British merchant vessel that sank in 1641.

The ruling means Odyssey must now testify in open court on its theories about the identity of the two sunken vessels. Company officials had long argued that secrecy was paramount: shareholders might sue if Odyssey's speculations about identity proved wrong, and pirates might try to pillage the wreck sites for their own profit.

But Thursday, Pizzo said he found Odyssey's "appeal for secrecy to be disingenuous and utterly without merit." Pizzo said CEO Greg Stemm discussed the Mercedes with a Spanish newspaper this week, and he added that "dramatic appeals for continued secrecy for information that is not particularly secret would seem more likely to inflame a treasure-hunting frenzy than the public release of the possible vessel names."

Neither disclosure will come as a surprise to close watchers of the Spain-Odyssey battle; the Mercedes and the Merchant Royal had long been discussed by Spain and others as possibilities.

But Odyssey cautioned Thursday that the evidence with regards to both shipwrecks is mixed, and "insufficient…to conclusively confirm the identity of any vessel."

Odyssey shares fell 18 cents, or 3.2 percent, to close at $5.38 Thursday. The stock has dropped 13 percent this year.

Scott Barancik can be reached at barancik@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

Tampa's Odyssey Marine identifies two wrecks in court 04/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 3:38pm]
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