Explorers will share details of shipwreck sites with Spain
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Spanish government will receive detailed information about three shipwreck sites where a Florida company found an estimated $500 million of colonial-era coins and artifacts last year, but those facts will not be made public, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. will share the exact location of the shipwrecks and items found onboard, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo said.
The Tampa-based company flew 17 tons of silver coins and other artifacts to the U.S. in May. It refused to disclose where in the Atlantic Ocean it found the wrecks, concerned that other firms may plunder or destroy the sites.
“These are treasures that we do not want to see true pirates take away,” said Allen von Spiegelfeld, an attorney representing Odyssey.
Spain has contended in federal court that it is entitled to the treasure if it is one of its sunken ships, or if the artifacts were removed from the country’s territorial waters.
The two sides have been at odds for months over the discoveries, with Spain detaining some of the firm’s ships and demanding that Odyssey deliver more information about their finds. Odyssey’s attorneys refused without a confidentiality agreement, which Pizzo approved Thursday.
Within two weeks, Odyssey will turn over the information. Spanish representatives will also be allowed to view the treasure.
Pizzo refused to require Spain to keep a list of who has access to the information Odyssey provides about the wrecks.
The agreement is “best for everybody,” Odyssey co-founder Greg Stemm said after the hearing. He acknowledged it has been hard for Spanish officials to determine how much of an interest they have in the treasure without knowing what it is or where it came from.
“Now we can talk about the facts,” Stemm said.
Odyssey officials have dubbed the recovery project “Black Swan” and have declined to discuss details of the coins or any other artifacts. The publicly traded company said the secrecy is needed to preserve trade secrets and squelch speculation about the actual value of the booty that could affect its stock price.
James Goold, a Washington attorney who is representing Spain, acknowledged that the government may decide it has no claim to the shipwrecks after viewing the information.
But he argued Thursday that Spanish officials needed precise information so that government entities — such as the navy — could protect the site if necessary.
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,” Pizzo quipped.
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.
Goold said Spain is not interested in examining the shipwrecks firsthand. Odyssey will provide videos and photos taken from the sites as part of Pizzo’s order.
The two sides are scheduled to return to court in March to discuss whether the case will move forward. Any future disputes about whether information should be released will be decided by Pizzo, but those discussions will occur behind closed doors.
Odyssey shares fell 4 cents to $5.27 in afternoon trading.
Published in The Messenger 1.11.08