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Odyssey treasure case creeps along

The status of Odyssey Marine Exploration’s claim for sunken Spanish  treasure worth $500 million is taking almost as long to determine as Homer’s “Odyssey” to fulfill.

“The Odyssey,” written thousands of years ago, traces the 10 years it takes Odysseus to return from the Trojan war. Thus far the litigation concerning the sunken Nuestra Senora de Mercedes is two years, two months and counting. For now, the wait extends at least until Aug. 7.

On June 3, the U.S. Magistrate Judge assigned to the case ruled that under principles of international law, the government of Peru, which sought to intervene on the basis that it had cargo aboard, had no standing to be part of the legal proceeding determining the fate of the 600,000 silver and gold coins on the ship.

At the same time, another ruling: that the Kingdom of Spain was entitled to have the entire case dismissed because they had sovereign immunity that protected it from being sued and required that the case be dismissed.

The case in legal jargon is the salvage firm’s “arrest” in international waters of the remains of a warship laden with treasure that went down off the Straits of Gibraltar in 1804, killing more than 200 sailors and their families, and taking a fabulous treasure consisting of tons of gold and silver coin to Davy Jones’s locker.

Since then, some additional activity:

On June 3, the Kingdom of Spain filed a technical motion seeking to dismiss the amended complaint or, alternatively, for summary judgment against Odyssey.  Magistrate Judge Mark A. Pizzo permitted that filing.

Two days later, on June 5, a group of descendants from the finders of the gold and silver asked for an extension of time to respond. 

The motions were referred to Magistrate Judge Mark A. Pizzo.

One June 8, U.S. District Court Judge Steven D. Merryday extended to July 6 the time to file response/reply to the report and recommendations of the magistrate judge; he also set as a new control date Aug. 7, 2009, to respond to objections.

The Republic of Peru asked for and received time to file objections to the magistrate’s  report and recommendation knocking them out of the case.

Odyssey is a successful salvage firm, 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.

By March 2007, Odyssey discovered sunken objects in international waters about 100 miles west of the Straits of Gibraltar at a depth of approximately 3,300 feet. It recovered an artifact (a small bronze block), symbolically deposited that item with the court, and on the basis of this asked for the “arrest of the vessel.”

Odyssey then went to court and demanded under the “law of finds” possessory rights and ownership over the items it has recovered and that remain at the salvage site. This is sort of like “finders, keepers.”

 It alternatively asked the court, under the “law of salvage,” that it be given “a liberal salvage award” for its services.”  That means that if Spain prevails, it’s not a free ride. Experts believe Odyssey’s reward might be in the millions.

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