Friday, January 11, 2008

 

Treasure hunters told to show maps

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CNN
January 10, 2008

TAMPA, Florida -- The Spanish government will receive detailed information about a shipwreck site where a Florida company found $500 million worth of coins and artifacts last year, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Odyssey Marine Exploration will reveal the exact location of the shipwreck and items found onboard, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo said.

The company will also disclose the locations of two other shipwrecks, the judge said.

The information, which includes videos and photos taken from the sites, will not be made public, he said. Odyssey is required to turn the information over within two weeks, and Spanish representatives will be allowed to view the treasure.

Spain has sought the information in federal court because it contends it is entitled to the treasure if it comes from one of its sunken ships, or if the artifacts were removed from Spain's territorial waters.

The agreement is "best for everybody," Odyssey co-founder Greg Stemm said after the hearing. "Now we can talk about the facts."

In all, Odyssey found three shipwreck sites that piqued the interest of the Spanish. The company dubbed the most lucrative "Black Swan" and have declined to discuss details of the coins or any other artifacts.

Court records show the Black Swan site is 200 miles west of Gibraltar, a British territory at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.

Odyssey officials have refused to disclose a more specific location, concerned that other firms may plunder or destroy the site.

James Goold, a Washington attorney who is representing Spain, acknowledged that the government may decide it has no claim to the "Black Swan" coins after viewing the information.

He argued Thursday that Spanish officials needed precise information so that government entities -- such as the navy -- could protect the site if necessary.

The Tampa-based company flew 17 tons of silver coins and other artifacts to the U.S. in May. Its value has been estimated at $500 million.

The two sides had been at odds for months, with Spain detaining some of Odyssey's ships and demanding that Odyssey deliver more information. Odyssey officials refused without a confidentiality agreement, which Pizzo approved Thursday.

"These are treasures that we do not want to see true pirates take away," said Allen von Spiegelfeld, an attorney representing Odyssey.

The initial find had generated press speculation that Odyssey had salvaged the wreck of the Merchant Royal, which sank off England in 1641, or the Sussex, a British ship that sank in a storm off Gibraltar in 1694.

But Odyssey representatives said in court that the main wreckage is an 18th century vessel. Another of the shipwrecks that was found is apparently an Italian ship, according to comments made in court Thursday.

The two sides are scheduled to return to court in March to discuss whether the case will move forward.

Pizzo wondered aloud how much the coordinates would help Spain in determining whether it had rights to the ship. "There wasn't GPS in 1492," he quipped.

Odyssey shares gained 10 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $5.41 Thursday.


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