Longtime readers of the MGS blog will note our love of treasure stories. These tales of fantastic finds and fabulous riches may have certainly made some people rich. However, treasure discoveries are not always a case of “finders, keepers.”
In March, earlier this year, the country of Spain proved just that.
In 1804, four Spanish frigates that were loaded with treasure were intercepted by the British off the coast of Portugal. It was a pre-emptive strike without a formal declaration of war. The confrontation was known as the Battle of Cape Santa Maria. During the skirmish, a powder magazine aboard one of the Spanish frigates – the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes – exploded, sinking the ship and its cargo.
In 2007, Odyssey Marine Exploration – a company famous for finding sunken treasure – found the cargo of the Mercedes and laid claim to the bounty. It consisted of more than 500,000 silver coins, as well as several hundred gold coins and other artifacts – certainly, no small find. Odyssey claimed ownership of the treasure, but the country of Spain contested. Legal battles ensued, and over the years, Spain won in nearly every case and appeal. In March 2012, the entire treasure finally returned to its home country.
It just goes to show that, depending on the laws, history, and country, the profession of treasure hunting doesn’t always boil down to “finders, keepers.”