In 2007, American maritime salvage company Odyssey Marine recovered 17 tons of nearly 600,000 silver and gold coins from the shipwreck of a Spanish galleon, about 100 miles west of the Straits of Gibraltar in international waters.
The galleon is believed to have been the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy), which was sunk in 1804 by British warships during the Napoleonic wars.
After a legal battle lasting five years, a court in the U.S recently ordered that the treasure of mostly silver coins, worth an estimated $500 million to collectors, be handed over to the Spanish government.
The Spanish successfully argued that since they have never relinquished ownership of the ship or its content then the coins are rightfully theirs. The haul is now understood to have arrived in Madrid and been moved to an undisclosed location.
With legal wrangling between the Spanish government and Odyssey Marine having begun even before the treasure was recovered, the American company is not due to receive any compensation for the $2.6 million it is estimated to have cost them for the salvage, transport, conservation and storage of the coins.
Despite this setback for Odyssey Marine, only last month the company secured a contract from the U.K government to recover an even more valuable treasure of three to four tons of gold coins from the 1744 wreck of British warship HMS Victory – a wreck they themselves discovered in 2008. Buoyed by the current high price of gold, it is almost certainly a contract that they are likely to profit from greatly.