US Supreme Court signals “final victory” for Spain in Odyssey case

Washington justices decide against studying appeals to review prior rulings

A Culture Ministry official shows some of the coins from the Mercedes trove.
A Culture Ministry official shows some of the coins from the Mercedes trove.AP

Spain’s long legal battle with Odyssey Marine Exploration over the collection of 500,000 silver and gold coins recovered from a 19th-century Spanish ship is finally over. The US Supreme Court on Monday rejected a petition by the Tampa, Florida-based shipwreck explorer to review the case, leaving intact decisions against the firm at two lower court jurisdictions.

During their weekly conference, the justices in Washington last Thursday studied Odyssey’s appeal along with several others filed against Spain, including petitions by the Republic of Peru and some of the descendants of the passengers of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, who said they were the rightful owners of the coins.

The top court didn’t give any reasons as to why it wasn’t taking up the case, only posting a succinct “denied” in the Supreme Court docket on Monday.

“All of the team is very pleased by the decision today, which makes our victory absolutely final,” said James Goold, the Spanish government’s lawyer who led the US federal court battle to get the coins and other treasure after Odyssey plucked them up from the bottom of the Atlantic in early 2007.

“The Supreme Court rejected three petitions claiming that the decision for Spain was contrary to US, Spanish and international law. Spain’s position that unauthorized looting of our underwater cultural heritage, in the case the historic frigate Mercedes, is illegal has been upheld at every level and today’s decision eliminates any possibility of any further challenge to our victory,” Goold said in an email message.

There was no immediate reaction by Odyssey lawyers.

On February 26, Spanish military cargo planes airlifted the coins back to Madrid after the Supreme Court refused to stop the transfer while it was considering the appeal. The US Appeals Court in Atlanta had already ordered Odyssey to turn over the mostly silver currency after rejecting Odyssey’s arguments.

The Culture Ministry has said that it will put the coins and other artifacts on display at different museums.

A Tampa judge has also ruled that Odyssey must turn over another part of the trove that has been stored in a warehouse in Gibraltar.

The Mercedes was sunk by the British navy off the coast of Portugal in 1804 when as it was sailing from South America toward the port at Cádiz.

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