Spain Suspicious over [Pound]250m Treasure Haul ; EUROPE

By Bignell, Paul | The Independent (London, England), May 21, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Spain Suspicious over [Pound]250m Treasure Haul ; EUROPE

Bignell, Paul, The Independent (London, England)

Authorities in Spain are looking into whether the US company involved in excavating colonial-era treasure from a sunken British ship can be charged with stealing Spanish heritage.

The Florida-based treasure-hunting company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, announced its discovery of gold and silver - worth an estimated [pound]250m - on Friday, but refused to cite the exact whereabouts of the wreck because of security concerns.

They said the coins were found in international waters, therefore outside the jurisdiction of any country and could legally be taken back to the United States.

But the Spanish government has said it thought the statement was "suspicious" after Odyssey sought permission to explore Spanish waters for the wreck of a British ship in January.

The company said it was searching for HMS Sussex, a 17th-century warship which sank in a storm in 1694 near Gibraltar while leading a British fleet into the Mediterranean Sea for war against France.

However, permission was only granted for exploration and did not extend to extraction, the Spanish Culture Ministry said.

The Spanish government has now asked the Spanish Civil Guard to launch an investigation as to whether the company could be charged with theft of Spanish heritage if there was evidence that the haul came from a wreck found within Spanish waters.

Odyssey Marine Exploration vessels, which are berthing in Gibraltar, will also be closely monitored by the Spanish Civil Guard.

The Tampa-based company said it was attempting to recover HMS Sussex under a deal with the British Government, which would be the first public-private arrangement of its kind, for an archaeological excavation of a sovereign warship.

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