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Odyssey Marine loses appeal to Supreme Court justice

Published Feb. 11, 2012

Tampa treasure hunter Odyssey Marine Exploration continues to see the half-billion-dollar treasure it pulled from the Atlantic slip from its hands.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Thursday rejected Odyssey's request to block a lower court order requiring the company to give the trove of gold and silver coins back to Spain.

Odyssey said it is reviewing what options it might have to retain the treasure and refuses to release it until a clear mandate is given from the appropriate authorities.

"While we are disappointed with the Supreme Court's denial of the motion for stay, we do recognize that the court very rarely grants these motions," said Melinda MacConnel, Odyssey's vice president and general counsel. "How we proceed from here will depend on … what a subsequent order might look like, especially given the fact that the courts have determined they do not have jurisdiction in the case."

Odyssey and Spain are battling in U.S. courts over claim to the sunken treasure, dubbed the Black Swan, found in 2007 off the cost of Portugal. Spain claims rights to that treasure because the vessel, Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, belonged to Spain.

"Spain has now been victorious at every level in the United States courts, from Tampa to Atlanta to Washington," said Jim Goold, whose firm Covington & Burling provided legal defense for Spain. Goold is prepared for Odyssey's next move.

"Odyssey has said that they will nevertheless ask the Supreme Court later this month to accept the case for review," Goold said. "The Supreme Court accepts 1 percent or less of such requests and today's decision makes a strong statement about their chances."

Hoping to avoid the type of dispute it has with Spain, Odyssey has contracts with the British government to retrieve three other finds this year. The company said any decision regarding the Black Swan will not affect the other sunken treasures.

"We are currently preparing for three shipwreck recoveries in 2012 and have already executed an agreement for Odyssey's compensation on all three projects," said Mark Gordon, Odyssey's president and COO. "Work is scheduled to begin in the second quarter and the future of Odyssey Marine Exploration has never looked brighter, despite any outcome in the Black Swan case."

Ivan Penn can be reached ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332.

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