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The plunder of the wreck

El buque Odissey Explorer esperando en el puerto de Algeciras a ser registrado por la Guardia Civil
Sonar intervenido por la Guardia Civil en el buque Ocean Alert
El buque Odissey Explorer entrando en el puerto de Algeciras escoltado por la Guardia Civil
Envases utilizados para guardar monedas, localizados por la Guardia Civil en el registro del buque Odissey Explorer
Rov (Vehículo Observación Remota) "Zeus". Precintado por la Guardia Civil en el buque Odissey Explorer

On 18 May 18 2007, the US company Odyssey Marine Exploration announced in various media that it had transported a load of around 500,000 gold and silver coins to the United States as part of an operation they called Black Swan. However, they refused to offer any information about the identity of the wreck from which the items came nor of its exact location. The only information they provided was that the discovery had not been made in Spanish waters but in international ones.

The company was known to the Spanish government as for several years it had been trying to locate the British warship (the H.M. Sussex), a 17th century vessel that had sunk in the waters in the Strait of Gibraltar. On various occasions, from 1999 to 2007, the Spanish government contacted both Odyssey as well as the governments of Great Britain and the United States, notifying them that the authorisation they had been given was only for archaeological surveys and regarding that particular British wreck. In addition, it also stated that, should any underwater archaeological site found, the Ministry of Education and Culture of Spain should be notified and that in no case should any material be extracted as what had been authorised was exploration, research and the study of archaeological data.

Bearing this in mind, and seeing the photographs of the Spanish coins from the Black Swan operation that were circulated by Odyssey in the media, alarm bells began to ring for the Spanish government as it suspected that they could be dealing with a case of plundering of underwater cultural property belonging to Spanish Historical Heritage.

Article 4 of Law 16/1985, of 25 June on Spanish Historical Heritage, establishes that "plunder is understood as any act or omission that can risk the loss or destruction of all or some of the value of the property that make up Spanish Historical Heritage or disrupts the fulfilling of its social function. [...] The Government shall ensure the recovery and protection, both legal and technical, of the plundered property."

The Spanish government, via its counsel for the defence, thus requested that the legal representatives of Odyssey give information regarding the contents of the discovery, as well as about the wreck and also requested the marine coordinates of the discovery. It appeared before the Court in Tampa in the name of the Spanish state requesting the identification of the wrecks and their cargoes in order to claim any property should the case arise.


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