MIAMI (Reuters) - The head of a Florida treasure-hunting company said he hopes for “a collaborative solution” to his dispute with Spain over the discovery of a shipwreck with a multimillion-dollar haul of silver and gold.
Greg Stemm, chief executive of Tampa, Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc, insisted that his company has acted “in accordance with all applicable laws,” and that the treasure it discovered in the Atlantic Ocean was found outside any country’s territorial waters.
Stemm’s comments were sent to Reuters by e-mail on Tuesday.
The Spanish government is suing Odyssey on grounds it is the rightful owner of the 17 metric tons of silver coins and gold the Florida firm recovered last year. The government has vowed to dispel any mystery about the shipwreck in court documents it will file in Tampa on Friday.
Stemm said Spain may indeed have a legitimate claim to the treasure, and that it may have come from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes y las Animas, a Spanish vessel that sank in the Atlantic in 1804.
He said that was just one working hypothesis, however, and that Odyssey had so far not been able to confirm the identity of any vessel related to the shipwreck site and the treasure it has placed in the custody of U.S. federal court.
If it were confirmed that the wreck site, code-named “Black Swan,” was that of the Mercedes, Stemm said Spain would still have to prove it was the owner of artifacts found at the site and that it did not abandon them.
“...That is up to the judge to determine, and it is the belief of our lawyers that Odyssey should still receive a generous salvage award,” said Stemm.
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.
Stemm said “negative claims” about Odyssey stemmed from a few individuals and some “irresponsible media” reports, especially in Spanish newspapers. He did not elaborate but said he hoped that Spain would deny previous claims the treasure was found in or near any Spanish waters.
The $500 million price-tag placed on the treasure was based on “media speculation” and not any estimate made public by Odyssey, Stemm said.
More than half a million coins were recovered from the Black Swan site, he said, adding that the $500 million figure was extrapolated from the average estimated per-coin value an independent numismatist attributed to the first 6,000 coin specimens examined.
The coins, which are being held in a secure undisclosed facility in the United States, represent a wide range of dates, origins and varieties, Stemm said.
“Odyssey always endeavors to collaborate with governments,” Stemm added.
“Currently, the ongoing litigation with Spain provides a challenge to diplomatic relations,” he said.
“We are hopeful that we will eventually arrive at a collaborative solution that will serve both Spain’s interest in preserving maritime heritage as well as Odyssey’s mission to help restore that heritage in a manner that is both archeologically sound and in line with international legal principles.”
Editing by Jim Loney