Spain sues to block U.S. claim to sunken treasure

MIAMI Wed May 30, 2007 6:51pm EDT

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MIAMI (Reuters) - The Spanish government filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court on Wednesday seeking to block claims by Florida-based treasure hunters Odyssey Marine Exploration to any Spanish property recovered from shipwrecks.

The suit does not refer specifically to Odyssey's claim on May 18 that it had legally recovered gold and silver coins worth an estimated $500 million from a colonial-era wreck code-named "Black Swan" at an undisclosed location in the Atlantic Ocean.

But Spain's Culture Ministry has called that discovery -- one of the world's biggest finds of sunken treasure -- suspicious and said the booty may have come from a wrecked Spanish galleon.

"The Kingdom of Spain has not abandoned its ownership and other rights in sunken vessels of the Kingdom of Spain, in vessels sunk while in the service of the Kingdom of Spain, and in cargo or other property of the Kingdom of Spain on or in sunken vessels," said the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

"All sovereign and other rights in such vessels, cargo, artifacts or other contents have been reserved," it said.

"The Kingdom of Spain further affirms and restates that arrest, recovery, or other unauthorized disturbance or recovery by Odyssey Marine Exploration of property of the Kingdom of Spain is not authorized, and the Kingdom of Spain reserves all rights and remedies arising from such activities."

A spokesman for Tampa-based Odyssey could not be reached for immediate comment on the suit, which was filed on Spain's behalf by Washington-based attorney James Goold.

But the company has said that the "Black Swan" recovery mission did not fall under Spanish jurisdiction.

Goold said Wednesday's suit was one of three the Spanish government was filing against Odyssey aimed at blocking its claims to various shipwrecks, including the "Black Swan."

He acknowledged there were many uncertainties about claims made by Odyssey, however, given the veil of secrecy under which it has operated.

"Despite repeated requests, Odyssey has not released information identifying which ships are involved in the claims it has filed," Goold said. "They have not responded to requests, before we filed this case, for information."

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