Sunken Treasure: Spain to send military cargo ships for the booty of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes


The Spanish government said today it would send military cargo transport planes to Florida to collect 17 tons of sunken treasure that were salvaged by American undersea explorers, according to The Associated Press.

The deep-ocean shipwreck experts at Odyssey Marine Exploration were ordered Friday to hand over the silver coins and other artifacts by Tuesday, the AP reported.

The decision capped a five-year legal battle that began after the divers salvaged the booty — comprising 594,000 coins and other artifacts— in May 2007 from the sunken Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes and brought it to the Tampa area.

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According to the AP, the civil guard said it would dispatch agents within hours to claim the treasure, which the AP said was valued at an estimated 380 million euro, or $504 million, and that it would be retrieved aboard two Hercules transport aircraft.

The wreck was discovered off the coast of Portugal near the Strait of Gibraltar and the Spanish government successfully argued in US courts that it had never renounced possession of the ship’s contents. According to the AP, Spain’s culture ministry said today that the coins were part of Spanish national patrimony and would go on display in one or more museums, according to the AP.

The Nuestra Señora was sunk by the British navy in 1804 with all 200 hands aboard is it returned from South America.

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According to the AP, Odyssey said in a statement it had spent $2.6 million on retrieving, transporting, storing and preserving the coins. The company had argued in court that the ship was never positively identified and that the Nuestra Senora had in fact been a trade ship and did not belong to the Spanish crown at any rate.

Maritime law generally holds that war ships remain sovereign property even after they are sunk.

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