Treasure hunters lose claim to $500m fortune

A 17-tonne trove of silver coins recovered from a Spanish galleon that was sunk off Portugal in 1804 was flown from the US to Spain yesterday, concluding almost five years of legal struggling.

Spain has gone ahead with efforts to move the treasure, despite a last-ditch, longshot claim to the find by Peru.

On Thursday, the Peruvian government made an emergency appeal to the US supreme court seeking to block transfer of the treasure, to give the nation more time to make arguments in federal court about its claim to being the rightful owner.

Peru says the gold and silver was mined, refined and minted in that country, which at the time was part of the Spanish empire.

The Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration made a global splash when it discovered the wreck of the galleon, believed to be the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, off Portugal’s Atlantic coast near the Straits of Gibraltar in May 2007. About 594,000 silver coins and other artifacts were recovered from the vessel. At the time, the coins were estimated to be worth as much as $500m (€370m) to collectors, which would have made it the richest shipwreck haul in history.

The ship was believed to have had 200 people on board when it was sunk by British warships.

Odyssey — which uses a remote-controlled submersible to explore the depths — had previously argued that as the finder, it was entitled to most or all of the treasure. The Spanish government filed a claim in US district court soon after the coins were flown back to Tampa, contending that it never relinquished ownership of the ship or its contents.

A federal district court first ruled in 2009 that the US courts did not have jurisdiction, and ordered the treasure returned.

Odyssey lost every round in federal courts trying to hold on to the treasure.

The company has said in earnings statements that it had spent $2.6m salvaging, transporting, storing, and conserving the treasure. It is not expected to receive compensation.

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