Supreme Court judge refuses to stop return of treasure
WASHINGTON– A US Supreme Court justice refused Thursday to grant a Florida company’s request to block a lower court’s order to return treasure to the Spanish government that was salvaged from a ship sunk in 1804.
Justice Clarence Thomas rejected without comment the emergency appeal from Odyssey Marine Exploration, which recovered 17 tons of silver and gold from the wreck of the Spanish ship “Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes.”
The company was trying to overturn a February 1 decision by a federal court in Atlanta that ordered the treasure returned.
The lower court said the ship, which was sunk during a battle with a 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 hundreds of gold objects and more than 500,000 silver coins Odyssey Marine Exploration discovered are expected to be the most valuable treasure recovery in history.
The company hid the discovery under the code name of “Black Swan Project” while it removed the treasure to an undisclosed location.
The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruling said that releasing the treasure “to Odyssey rather than Spain would be inconsistent with Spain’s rights under the 1902 Treaty of Friendship and General Relations between the United States of America and Spain.
“This treaty requires the United States to extend to Spanish shipwrecked vessels the same protection and immunities afforded to its own shipwrecked vessels in similar circumstances.”
Odyssey Marine Exploration still can appeal for a review by the entire Supreme Court, which historically has offered a minimal chance of success after rejection by one of its own justices.
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