Using Spain’s Own Twisted, Rapacious Logic

Spain demands return of $500 million treasure
Court battle over U.S. deep-sea firm’s shipwreck haul intensifies
Spain is demanding a U.S. deep-sea exploration firm turn over the entire $500 million treasure it salvaged from a shipwreck, saying Thursday it has determined the vessel is definitely Spanish.
James Goold, a Washington-based lawyer who represents the Spanish government, said the 19th-century shipwreck at the heart of a dispute with Odyssey Marine Exploration is without a doubt the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes — a Spanish frigate sunk by a British warship southwest of Portugal in 1804.

WHY then wouldn’t the wreckage technically be British because it’s a war prize?

Don Massaredo: Mmm… I wonder if their excellencies realize they’re setting free a man who will doubtless be a thorn in their side for many years to come.
Hornblower: I shall endeavor not to disappoint them. sir.

18 Responses to “Using Spain’s Own Twisted, Rapacious Logic”

  1. Skyler says:

    It’s not a war prize because the Brits didn’t take possession of it, they sank it. Ooh, that’s a good one too. In property class we learn of all the ways to get property and one is conquest. We don’t get many legal cases for that example.
    I don’t know admiralty law, but if I’m not mistaken, the case will hinge on whether Spain has abandoned the wreckage or not. The laws are different if something is lost and if it is abandoned. The basic rule is that if someone finds lost property, he has superior title to all except the rightful owner.
    But admiralty law has its own entire system. I’d be curious as to how it comes out.

  2. Gunslinger says:

    If the Spaniards want it so badly let them send their armada to come take it. *snicker*

  3. greg newson says:

    I think it would be impossible to prove that it
    wasn’t abandoned before it sank.Since they didn’t try to recover it for 200 years they abandoned it. In 1804
    Spain was a monarchy,the ship would belong to the King.Therefore, it is impossible to identify the owner 200 years later.That’s may junior college
    legal finding.
    Finders Keepers,Losers Weepers………..

  4. Submersion is nine fathoms of the law…

  5. Skyler says:

    No, the title clearly goes to the government of Spain today if it can be claimed. This is not in dispute. The only issue would be if it was abandoned or not. I think they have a pretty solid case, to be honest, but I don’t know admiralty law.
    Not having found something does not make it abandoned. It just makes it lost. Finders keepers is the law, unless the true owner is identified.

  6. Skyler says:

    To be more clear, when something is lost, that means that you just don’t know where it is. You don’t necessarily have to be looking for it.
    If you know where it is and ignore it, or you purposefully dispose of it (say in the trash), then that is abandonment.
    That is, if you drop your watch on a country lane while riding your car, you’ve lost it. If you toss the watch out the window then you’ve abandoned it.
    Here, the Spaniards did not abandon it, and if they had the technology and knew where they lost it, they would have certainly retrieved it long ago. Now, if the Brits had captured the ship and then scuttled it, then there’s an argument that it no longer belongs to the Spanish at all. In this case it would be abandoned by the Brits (who would be idiots to abandon a cargo of bullion). In that case, finders are keepers without exception.
    But there are certainly nuances of admiralty law that I am not aware of. There might be an exception to encourage treasure seekers.

  7. greg newson says:

    Skyler ;How does one know the king didn’t receive insurance for the cargo from an English insurance company? Then the insurance company bought it from the King.Or that a prince in Spain paid for the cargo? The Government of Spain has no standing then
    in this case.

  8. The_Real_JeffS says:

    Swooping in like that, stealing the money, and leaving the salvage firm hanging in the breeze….that’s pretty chincy of the Spanish government.
    The details are lacking, but I don’t even see a finder’s fee mentioned, nor any attempts at pre-trial negotiations.

  9. Skyler says:

    Okay, I’ve done the most cursory of scans through a tiniest bit of the case law and it appears that there is a very good reason that admiralty law is a separate animal from other law.
    It looks like salvors have some sort of right to claim at least a portion of what they save. In one case a ship came upon a ship on fire after its crew was driven away. They boarded the ship and extinguished the fire and towed it to port. The case is about how much of the ship and cargo the salvor had a right to keep.
    My point is that all this stuff is complicated. It will be fascinating to see how it came out, but another case I skimmed involved the state of Texas and Platoro salvors who found an old 16th century Spanish Galleon. That case was before the US Supreme court after nearly 20 years of wrangling and it appeared that it was probably not completely settled then.
    The lesson is that finding sunken treasures yields a very long term payoff, if at all.

  10. Everybody wants the easy booty once someone else has done the dirty work. Mel Fisher had to beat back the wolves after finding the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, for instance:

    After the discovery, the United States government claimed title to the wreck, and the State of Florida seized many of the items Fisher had retrieved from his earliest salvage expeditions. After eight years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Fisher.

  11. Skyler says:

    Thanks THS, but both this and the Platoro cases, while both involving ancient wrecks, were in US waters and a governmental entity negotiated beforehand as to the rights of the salvor.
    In the case of the Nuestra Señora, it appears to be in open ocean.
    I don’t know admiralty law, so I don’t pretend to be able to guess even the issues involved, let alone how they might be judged. SHould be interesting to watch.

  12. greg newson says:

    Sklyer;I just trying to think outside the box.
    My brother is an attorney and he and I can
    sometimes come up some unique angles on arguments.
    Like baseball,sometimes the best pitch is a curve.

  13. Kate P says:

    Why am I not surprised? There are still a ton of contentions about Gibraltar, too.

  14. major dad says:

    Interesting logic by the Spaniards since that gold and silver was probably stolen by them in the first place. Was the ship sunk in Spanish waters or Portugal’s? International maybe?

  15. Skyler says:

    I don’t think the law would say that the Spanish stole the gold. It was taken from land that they had title to, by conquest. Conquest is a legitmate means of acquiring property by the law.

  16. Sending it to the briney deep as the loser in battle is also ‘conquest’, n’est pas?

  17. Skyler says:

    Yeah, like I said, there’s more to it than meets the first glance.

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