Odyssey Marine, a firm which has popularized recovery of maritime vessels sunk in deep water, took one on the chin Sept. 21 as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, one level before plenary review by the U.S. Supreme Court, sided with the Kingdom of Spain and dismissed the attempt by Odyssey to salvage the Nuestra Senora Mercedes treasure ship with millions in treasure aboard the military naval vessel.
Less than a week later, the stockholders of Odyssey were crowing as the company located a 20th century British ship sunk by a Nazis submarine off the Irish coast, and with the consent of the English crown and government, it can salvage about 7 million ounces of silver (valued today exceeding $210 million).
Odyssey is a successful salver which presently has 15 different salvage actions brought by “arresting … long-sunken vessels pending in the United States District Court for the Central District of Florida, headquartered in Tampa.”
The Mercedes sank on Oct. 5, 1804, after a battle with the British navy off the Straits of Gibraltar in international waters.The manifest aboard showed a cargo departing from Peru laden with nearly 600,000 silver and gold coins valued at more than $500 million.
The recent find is the S.S. Gairsoppa, a British cargo ship torpedoed by a German U-boat in February 1941 and sank nearly three miles down. The 412-foot ship was operating for the United Kingdom Ministry of War between Calcutta and London. Its manifest shows it bore more than 7 million ounces of silver ingots.
“Odyssey Marine said it would be “the largest known precious metal cargo ever recovered from the sea.” They signed a contract allowing them to keep 80 percent of the find with the balance going to the British government.
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In November 2006, Odyssey representatives had met with an official from Spain’s Ministry of Culture seeking Spain’s consent to recover and sell artifacts from shipwrecks of historical or cultural interest to Spain.
Although the participants now have different views about the meeting, all agree Spain failed to give Odyssey explicit approval.
Spain proved that the Mercedes was a warship, and in the end that was all that mattered under the law of prize, the laws of war and the law of marine salvage.