- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Spanish government has filed claims in U.S. federal court over a shipwreck that a Florida firm found laden with Colonial-era treasure, a government attorney said yesterday.

If the vessel was Spanish or was removed from that country’s waters, any treasure would belong to Spain, said James Goold, a lawyer representing the government.

“It’s a very well established principle under Spanish, U.S. and international law that a government such as the kingdom of Spain has not abandoned its sunken ships or sunken property, and that a company like Odyssey Marine Exploration may not conduct recovery operations without authorization by the government,” he said.

“The kingdom of Spain has not authorized any such operations by Odyssey, and by these legal actions it will see the return of any Spanish property Odyssey has recovered,” Mr. Goold said of the claims filed Wednesday.

John Morris, chief executive officer of Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc., said yesterday that “such a move was anticipated by Odyssey and is considered normal in Admiralty cases.”

The company has said that Odyssey would notify all claimants once it conclusively determined the ship’s identity. Odyssey said it was not found in Spanish territorial waters.

The company announced two weeks ago that it had discovered a shipwreck containing 500,000 gold and silver coins somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. The Tampa-based company said the site was outside any country’s territorial waters, but it would not give the exact location or name of the ship.

Odyssey has said that the ship was not in Spanish territorial waters and was not the HMS Sussex, a shipwreck for which Odyssey recently obtained Spanish permission to search in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Spain has called the discovery suspicious and said the booty may have come from a wrecked Spanish galleon.

In Britain, the find generated press reports that Odyssey had salvaged the wreck of the long-sought British vessel Merchant Royal, which sank in bad weather off England in 1641. Odyssey has not confirmed or denied these reports.

Spain is using the U.S. law firm Covington & Burling, which has represented Spain in other shipwreck cases, including the recovery of material from two ships, Juno and La Galga. The Spanish government won the 2000 court case.

Odyssey shares rose 13 cents, about 2 percent, to $6.83 in volatile morning trading. Shares fell almost 4 percent early in the day. They have traded in a 52-week range of $1.52 to $9.45.

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