The extraction of an estimated $500 million worth of coins from a shipwreck referred to as the “Black Swan” has caused a tidal wave of conflicting claims from both the American company which found the treasure, and the government of Spain.
The sunken riches were salvaged by Odyssey Marine Exploration, a Tampa-based company which bills itself as “the world’s leader in the field of deep-ocean shipwreck exploration.”
Initial press reports, including this article from the BBC, cited the remarks of an expert who suggested the location of the shipwreck was “forty miles off Land’s End,” which is on the southwestern tip of England.
Yet in a press release issued in May, Odyssey Marine Exploration would go no further than to say that the wreck was found in the Atlantic Ocean, and that the coins were shipped to the United States through British Customs, on a plane from Gibraltar.
Spain Jumps Into The Fray
The Spanish Ministry of Culture contends that the treasure was either in Spanish territorial waters or was from a ship that once belonged to Spain. According to a May 30 Reuters story, Spain was so flustered by the treasure discovery that it filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court “seeking to block claims by Florida-based treasure hunters Odyssey Marine Exploration to any Spanish property recovered from shipwrecks.”
The Reuters story quoted a “lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida” as saying:
A day after the Reuters story was published, Odyssey posted another press release on its Web site claiming that the company had spoken to the counsel for the Spanish Government, Jim Goold, and that the lawsuit did not, in fact, exist. Odyssey’s press release stated:
This denial contradicted several other reports which had directly quoted Goold’s statements on the lawsuit, including an article from the BBC, which stated:
An injunction was subsequently filed in a court in Cadiz, Spain, which ordered the interception of two Odyssey crafts should they leave their port in Gibraltar, thereby reentering Spanish territorial waters. As reported by the BBC, Spanish Culture Minister Carmen Calvo stated that the Spanish Navy would aide in the interception if required.
The Plot Deepens
Discussion has circulated in the international media, including this article in the June 24 Times of London, over how the treasure would be divvied if indeed the Spanish government could prove that the ship belonged to Spain. If the ship belonged to Spain, Spain would retain all of the cargo. If not, Odyssey would be entitled to approximately 90%, or $450 million of the $500 million-worth of treasure.
In an unexpected twist, meanwhile, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of automobiles issued a statement that seemed to put a new perspective on the whole imbroglio.
On June 22, a press release from Volvo Car Corporation (posted on Odyssey’s Web site) stated that the entire ordeal had spawned from a promotion it had been staging in conjunction with the release of the Disney film “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” which Odyssey had facilitated by depositing a cache of gold off the coast of Spain for a treasure-seeking contest.
Volvo stated that Odyssey had coincidentally found the “Black Swan” elsewhere at the same time that the company had been placing the treasure for the Pirates of the Caribbean promotion. Linda Gangeri, national advertising manager for Volvo Cars of North America, stated in the press release:
It is not immediately apparent why Odyssey had refrained from offering this explanation at an earlier juncture. Odyssey had eluded to working with Disney in an earlier press release, although no link was made between the partnership and the recent controversies. Odyssey only stated:
It’s worth noting that Gibfocus, a news outlet in Gibraltar, reported that worry over the whole situation will only serve to reinforce a legacy many believe exists between Gibraltar and piracy in the British-held Mediterranean territory.
Ben Rothenberg is a summer 2007 international news intern for WPR. His last dispatch to the blog focused on the suicide of two political figures in Japan.