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Odyssey, Black Swan and the Mercedes
May 12, 2008

Spain Pursues Odyssey

About one year ago, in late May, 2007 I wrote a posting covering the news story of the Odyssey Marine Exploration recovery of a shipwreck with loads of silvers coins. At that time Odyssey had not released much information about the shipwreck location, origin of the ship or the coins, but from photo's of buckets of coins we were guessing that they were Spanish 8 Reales. Odyssey had brought the coins and other items from the discovery site back to their warehouses in Tampa, Florida. Their announcement did not give the original location of the wreck.

Lot's of mystery, good chance for dispute and a great pirate story in the making!

In the ensuing months, the Spanish government filed claims to the property. They objected to the removal of the coins from their original site and sought court assistance in gaining more information from Odyssey about the shipwreck. Slowly, Odyssey has been forced to give up the tightly held details of the find, which they have been calling "The Black Swan".

Today the Associated Press released more details about this shipwreck case, which I read in a FOXnews story. Seems the Spanish government has come to the conclusion that the ship that Odyssey located the remains of was the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spainsh naval vessel sunk by the British in 1804 off the coast of Portugal as it was returning from South America with silver coins struck in Lima, Peru.

Spain wants the return of all items from this wreck, as they claim to retain full title to all property aboard the ship when it sunk. The Mercedes was a naval vessel belonging to the Spanish government and it seems that under maritime law such a ship remains the posession of the country under whose flag she sailed, even if it now rests at the bottom of the sea.

Since Odyssey flew the coins out of Gibraltar to Tampa, Fl without notifying the Spanish government, it will now be up to a U.S. court to decide their fate. At the heart of this dispute will be an attempt to conclusively identify the shipwreck, which may be difficult, as most of what remains are the artifacts. The ships hull is gone and it sounds as if much of the rest of the actual ship is gone as well. However, Spain feels it has conclusive evidence, presumably in comparisons of records, recovery items and location of the wreck. In the article I read it was mentioned that the treasure contains 1803 dated 8 Escudos struck at Lima, but those are not uncommon coins, so the Spanish government must have more decisive evidence to back up their claim, given the extremely high confidence level exhibited by their public statements.

In the coming months we'll learn more as we see what the courts have to say after reviewing the evidence submitted from both Odyssey and the Spanish government. In addition, because Spain and Odyssey have worked together on other explorations in the past, but no longer, other legal actions may follow and Odyssey may find themselves up against an armada of legal tangles.

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About the Author
Tom Michael has been Krause Publications primary market analyst on more than 80 world and United States coin catalogs produced over the last 20 years. He came to KP in 1987 with a bachelor of arts degree in history, a master of arts degree in economics and a history of coin collecting stretching back to the 1960s. He began collecting world coins as a child by asking friends and relatives to bring coins back from overseas trips, visiting flea markets and having his mother watch for foreign coins in her register at the local grocery store. Today he works with a dedicated base of over 200 contributors to provide accurate market values for the five-volume Standard Catalog of World Coins series, as well as many specialty catalogs, including Coins & Currency of the Middle East and the fifth edition of Unusual World Coins.

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