Spain sues over shipwreck treasure

Friday, June 1, 2007

MADRID, Spain -- The Spanish government said Thursday it has filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court against an American firm over a shipwreck the company has found laden with a colonial-era treasure.

If the vessel was Spanish or was removed from Spanish waters, any treasure would belong to Spain, Spain says.

"Odyssey Marine Exploration has been requested in a letter to provide information concerning the identity of the ship and the material recovered, and has not responded with the details we were asking for," said Susana Tello, Culture Ministry spokeswoman.

"Spain has decided to go to [the] courts to claim its right in case the discovery is Spanish," she added. The lawsuit was filed in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Tello said.

A message and e-mail left for an Odyssey spokeswoman were not immediately returned early Thursday.

Odyssey announced two weeks ago it had discovered a shipwreck it has code-named "Black Swan" and 500,000 gold and silver coins somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

It only described the ship as a 17th-century merchant vessel that sank about 40 miles off the southwestern tip of England. But the Florida-based company would not say exactly where the ship was or name it, citing security concerns, and said the site was outside any country's territorial waters.

Odyssey has said that the ship was not in Spanish territorial waters and was not HMS Sussex, a shipwreck that Odyssey recently got permission from the Spanish government to search for in the Strait of Gibraltar.

But Spain has called the new discovery suspicious and said the booty may have come from a wrecked Spanish galleon.

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