Last Thursday a Spanish patrol ship intercepted the vessel, the Ocean Alert owned by Odyssey Marine Exploration, in international waters after it had left the port of Gibraltar. The ship is registered in Panama and by marine law is the affronted party.
Coin collectors are interested because this is the latest salvo in a fight about sunken treasure.
On May 17 Odyssey Marine announced that it had found the treasure, but did not identify the lost ship.
Spanish authorities are seething because they figure a plot is afoot to grab treasure from an old Spanish warship to which it has rights under international law.
It uses as its evidence photos of coins that seem to show Spanish or Spanish colonial 8 reales coins.
As collectors know, that is pretty flimsy, but greed knows no bounds. Spanish coins were the international currency of the world in the 17th and 18th centuries. Through its colonies its mines produced vast silver supplies that colonial mints poured forth as coins and sent back to Spain. The coins were so common, that they were the currency of choice for the 13 colonies that declared their independence from England in 1776. Colonial paper currency promised to pay Spanish milled dollars and the basis of the U.S. dollar was the Spanish milled dollar, which is the 8 reales.
The United States melted and assayed the 8 reales to determine what the U.S. dollar should be. Because they were off slightly, the U.S. dollar was just a tad lighter than the Spanish version.
Collectors know just because Spanish coinage is present on a ship doesn’t make the ship Spanish.
Is it surprising that Odyssey Marine would want to keep its find’s location secret? Well, if you find something of great value in international waters and you cannot anchor a security force there 24 hours a day, what would you do?
Spanish authorities have already sued the company over the matter, but apparently the legal process is not fast enough.
Perhaps the U.S. government can start seizing hoards of U.S. currency wherever they are found in the world under the supposition that they must be originally stolen from us somewhere.
Oh, these notes circulate freely around the world?
Tell that to the Spanish government about its historic coins.