The US Supreme Court on Monday refused to grant a final appeal to a Florida company that discovered silver and gold on a sunken Spanish vessel but was then ordered to return the treasure to Spain.
The Court did not give a reason for refusing the request from salvage specialist Odyssey Marine Exploration, which recovered 17 tons of silver and gold from the wreck of the “Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes” five years ago.
The decision effectively confirmed a February 1 ruling by a federal court in Atlanta that the ship, which was sunk in 1804 near the Straits of Gibraltar during a battle with the British fleet, remained the property of Spain.
The ship was found in May 2007 at a depth of 1,700 feet (518 meters) in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Portugal. It was returning from Peru.
The Court also refused an appeal from Peru, which had sought to prevent the treasure being returned to Spain.
The hundreds of gold objects and more than 500,000 silver coins discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration, said to be worth $500 million, was reputed to be the most valuable find in history, and the loot has already been returned to Spain.
The company hid the discovery under the code name of “Black Swan Project” while it removed the treasure to an undisclosed location.
In its ruling, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said that releasing the treasure to the Florida company would be inconsistent with a 1902 treaty between the United States and Spain.
[The Ocean Alert, a ship of the US Tampa-based company Odyssey Marine Exploration, is berthed in 2007 after it recovered a treasure haul from a sunken wreck in the Atlantic. AFP Photo/Juan Munoz]