Spain rejects U.S. treasure-hunters' shipwreck claim

MIAMI (Reuters) - Spain rejected as “preposterous” on Friday claims by Florida treasure hunters about the origin of a $500 million haul of silver and gold from a disputed shipwreck and vowed to set the record straight next month.

The Odyssey Explorer is moored in Gibraltar's Port June 6, 2007. REUTERS/Anton Meres

The response came a day after a U.S. court filing was made public in which Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc of Tampa, Florida, said it was unable to conclusively identify the vessel linked to the site where the trove was found last year.

Lawyers for Odyssey said the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes y las Animas, a Spanish vessel that sank in the Atlantic Ocean in 1804, was possibly linked to the site.

But in its court papers, filed under seal on April 14 and made public by a federal court judge on Thursday, Odyssey said it was reviewing information that may be inconsistent with the hypothesis that the wreck site, code-named “Black Swan,” was that of the Mercedes.

Spain has said it suspects the 17 metric tons of silver coins and gold came from a sunken colonial-era Spanish galleon and is suing Odyssey on grounds that Madrid is the rightful owner.

Odyssey, which has shipped most of the treasure recovered to the United States, says it was found outside any country’s territorial waters.

In October a Spanish warship intercepted the company’s treasure-hunting ship, Odyssey Explorer, after it left the British territory of Gibraltar and escorted it to a Spanish port. Police arrested the ship’s captain but released him soon after.

Lawyer James Goold, who represents Spain, declined to comment on the identity of the shipwreck in a telephone interview with Reuters on Friday. But he disparaged Odyssey’s contention that it could only offer a working hypothesis as to the identity of the shipwreck.

“The answer Odyssey provided to the court included preposterous claims such as that 17 metric tons of silver coins and hundreds of other artifacts may have (been) thrown overboard from a mystery ship,” Goold said in a statement.

“We are proceeding full speed ahead with our investigation and will set the record straight in our May 9 answers to the court about the identity of the shipwreck,” he said.

Additional reporting by Robert Green in Tampa; Editing by Jane Sutton and Xavier Briand