Spain says it’s the rightful owner of $500 million from shipwreck

From the Associated Press

Spain formally laid claim Thursday to a shipwreck that yielded a $500-million treasure, saying it has proof the vessel was Spanish.

Officials demanded the return of the booty that was recovered last year by a U.S. deep-sea exploration firm, saying the 19th century wreck is the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes -- a Spanish warship sunk by the British navy in 1804 southwest of Portugal with more than 200 people on board.

based in Tampa, Fla., announced in May 2007 that it had discovered the wreck in the Atlantic -- and its cargo of 500,000 silver coins, gold doubloons and other artifacts.

At the time, Odyssey said it did not know which ship it was, and flew the treasures without Spain’s knowledge to Tampa from an airport on the British colony of Gibraltar on Spain’s southwestern tip.

The Spanish government filed evidence in a Tampa federal court to support its claim.

“We are talking about the remains of a Spanish navy vessel and the human remains of Spanish naval servicemen who died on board that have been illegally disturbed,” Culture Ministry Director General Jose Jimenez said.

Washington-based lawyer James Goold, representing the Spanish government in the case, said U.S. Judge Mark Pizzo will convene the two parties to review the case.