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Shipwreck yields $500M haul - Richest shipwreck treasure?

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Bianca
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« on: July 13, 2007, 06:29:54 pm »



ODYSSEY SEIZED AT SEA



Spain confiscates a ship of the Tampa-based treasure hunters off the coast of Gibraltar.



By MARK ALBRIGHT- St. Petersburg Times

Published July 13, 2007




A Spanish coastguard boat (center) and the Spanish frigate 'Infanta Elena' (right) follows the 'Ocean Alert' into port in Algerciras, southern Spain, where police were waiting to search its holds.




Spanish authorities kicked their dispute with Tampa sunken treasure hunters up to international incident level Thursday by seizing an Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. ship for inspection off the coast of Gibraltar.

The government of British-ruled Gibraltar issued a formal protest, saying the MS Ocean Alert was "illegally boarded" in international waters, about 3.5 miles off the coast of what's commonly called "The Rock" at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.


Spanish Guardia Civils watch as the 'Ocean Alert' is escorted into port in Algerciras, southern Spain. Police say they were acting on an order of a Spanish judge who in June instructed police to capture the "Odyssey Explorer" and "Ocean Alert," two vessels belonging to a Florida firm that recently announced it had found a shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean laden with an estimated $500 million worth of Colonial-era treasure.


The Spanish Guardia Civil -- with a boatload of media in hot pursuit -- boarded the vessel and steered it into a Spanish port where it will remain for inspection a few days. Authorities confiscated Odyssey's equipment and cameras. Most of the crew reportedly was released and passports returned about seven hours into the affair.

Armed with a Spanish investigating judge's orders, the government is looking for potential Spanish loot or clues in a cat-and-mouse game over Odyssey's other salvaged shipwrecks the Spanish government may try to claim.

"It certainly shows the Spanish are quite serious about protecting their interest" in sunken treasure that salvors exhume with robotic equipment, clean and sell, said James Delgado of the Institute for Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M.

Gibraltar is a British territory at the southern tip of Spain. It says British waters extend three miles off the coast. Spain does not recognize the British boundary, saying it's all Spanish waters until international waters begin 12 miles offshore. Spanish patrol boats reportedly followed the Ocean Alert three miles before officers boarded the ship.

The British government raised objections to the seizure and subsequent impoundment with the foreign minister in Madrid.

The Ocean Alert is registered in Panama. The Gibraltar government renewed free-shipping concerns over the seizure.

"Assuming the Panamanian authorities have not given their consent, the arrest of the Ocean Alert would appear to be illegal," said a government statement.

"We made it clear to them that we were being illegally boarded in international waters under threat of force," Aladar Nesser, Odyssey's international business development director told a reporter at the scene.

Odyssey, however, down-played the fracas in a statement, saying the ship was forced into Spanish port at Algeciras because of a "miscommunication." But someone had alerted the Spanish media, which was out in force to record the event. And Odyssey was carrying a reporter from the Gibraltar Chronicle on board.

"The move follows two Odyssey vessels having spent the past three weeks effectively imprisoned in port while Odyssey negotiated with the Spanish government to seek a secure free passage," wrote Brian Reyes, reporter for the Gibraltar Chronicle.

The Spanish government has been furious since Odyssey quietly flew to the United States vast treasures the Spaniards think may belong to them. Odyssey in May spirited 17 tons of silver, gold and valuable artifacts supposedly worth more than $500-million to an undisclosed location in the United States. The haul came from a colonial-era shipwreck code-named "Black Swan" that Odyssey discovered somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

Odyssey says there is more to the find, but has disclosed little about it. The company filed suits in U.S. District Court in Tampa two months ago seeking approval to exhume three more wrecks: one in the Mediterranean between Sardinia and Sicily; one off Gibraltar; and a third off the southern coast of England.

The Spanish government intervened in each case to determine if the wrecks have links to Spanish heritage or culture. It doesn't matter if Spanish royal treasures lost long ago are found in the hold of another country's ship, a situation the country's attorneys compare to the United States trying to recover a gold shipment lifted from Fort Knox.

Odyssey, which shares archaeological data with scientists, recently filed a 109-page statement in one case detailing nine years of meetings about the Black Swan search with Spanish authorities.

Odyssey shares, which soared 37 percent after the Black Swan announcement, closed Thursday at $6.22, down 10 cents.



www.stpetetimes.com
Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2007, 06:42:25 pm by Bianca2001 » Report Spam   Logged

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