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Lawyers begin circling sunken treasure

JUNE 5 — Spanish authorities are seeking the rights to a sunken ship discovered in the Atlantic recently that’s said to be carrying what could be the most valuable shipwreck booty in history.

The Spanish government has filed claims in U.S. federal court arguing that if the sunken vessel is from Spain, the treasure on board belongs to the country, a news report says. In May, a Tampa, Fla.-based group of deep sea explorers, Odyssey Marine Exploration, announced it had discovered the sunken boat and colonial-era treasure, but declined to offer details about the vessel or its location.

“It’s a very well-established principle under Spanish, U.S. and international law that a government such as the kingdom of Spain has not abandoned its sunken ships or sunken property, and that a company like Odyssey Marine Exploration may not conduct recovery operations without authorization by the government,” an attorney representing the Spanish government says in the report.

Odyssey Marine Exploration members said they have collected more than 500,000 coins that are estimated to be worth $500 million, an Associated Press report says. The ship apparently went down in a shipping lane where many colonial-era vessels sank, the report says. It was not immediately known the size, nationality or age of the boat, although the group’s records reportedly indicate it could be a ship that sank 400 years ago off England.

“For this colonial era, I think [the find] is unprecedented,” a rare coin specialist who examined a batch of the coins says in the Associated Press report. “I don’t know of anything equal or comparable to it.”

While Spanish authorities were investigating whether the vessel could be a wrecked Spanish galleon, press reports in England indicated it could be the Merchant Royal, which sank off England in 1641, a news report says.

Jason Fell