Friday, July 13, 2007

Shipwreck Laws Challenged by Spain

One of our local companies is taking on the government of Spain. I'm going to quote excerpts of the article but you can read the original story here.

A Tampa company and the Kingdom of Spain have been duking it out over treasures from a sunken shipwreck for weeks.

Thursday, Spain made a bold move. The country's government boarded and seized one of the company's ships off the coast of Gibraltar. The company insisted the vessel, called the "Ocean Alert," was in international waters, but Spain apparently believed otherwise.

The trouble started with the money -- tubs and tubs of gold and silver coins from the bottom of the ocean.

The Tampa-based company Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. found the booty back in May and scored the richest shipwreck-find ever -- $500 million worth of old money. The company said their submarine robot found the wreck in international waters. Days later, the Kingdom of Spain fought that claim and began filing lawsuits of its own, saying the treasure belonged to the E.U. country.

James Goold, the legal counsel for the Kingdom of Spain, explained in May, "if the ship were carrying property of the Kingdom of Spain that property would remain the property of Spain."

Since then, the debate has been raging.

Interesting, isn't it? Shipwreck / scavenging law has always boiled down to "finders, keepers / losers, weepers." And yet, Spain makes an interesting argument - it was theirs at one time, after all. Still, I doubt if their case will stand. After all, other government ships have gone down and been subsequently pilfered without a peep from their original owners.

If Spain wins this one, every shipwreck discovery will be challenged by survivors, heirs, and distant relatives until our heads swim from it all. Needless to say, all shipwreck discoveries would stop.

I'm also interested in seeing Spain prove that the scavengers had strayed into their waters. Obviously it's in Spain's best interest to try to bully the scavengers into stopping, but they certainly can't violate international law in order to do it or they're no better than Iran.

I'm going out of town for two days on business. I'll resume posting on Sunday, in all probability. Have a great weekend!


Anonymous said...

I just find it fascinating that there is a whole segment of law over shipwrecks ... maybe I should have been a pirate lawyer. I can say ARGGHHHHHH really well.


Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

They should have a war between Florida and Spain to sort it out.

The Lazy Iguana said...

Bush violates international and US law whenever he wants to and gets away with it.

Marine salvage laws are probably going to end up on the side of the company.

Hans said...


The seizure happened off the coast of Gibraltar. It's the government of British ruled Gibraltar that has registered the complaint. Sounds to me like you fellas need to raise Lord Nelson and prepare for the Armada.


exMI said...

Interestingly enough the US has always claimed that sunken/wrecked US Naval vessels are still US property and not subject to salvage.

The Lazy Iguana said...

Yes they do. But there is a difference in the USA and Spain. We got the bomb. And aircraft carriers. And submarines with Trident missiles.
Spain does not.

Also the ships of the Armada are not of the same Government as modern day Spain. It is not a monarchy anymore.

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