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Row over Spanish treasure -

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Row over Spanish treasure

The World Today - Friday, 9 May , 2008 12:24:00

Reporter: Sara Everingham

ELEANOR HALL: Now to the dispute between Spain and the United States over millions of dollars worth
of buried treasure.

The Spanish government is demanding the return of 17 tonnes of silver and gold that were found last
May by a treasure hunting company based in the United States in a shipwreck deep in the Atlantic
Ocean.

The Spanish government is now suing the company saying the firm has stolen part of Spain's
heritage, as Sara Everingham reports.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Many people might think battles over treasure were a thing of the past, but
there's one playing out now in a United States court.

Spain has made a claim to 17 metric tonnes of silver and gold found by a US company deep in the
Atlantic Ocean in March last year.

In the battle, the stakes are high.

One estimate puts the value of the treasure at around $US500 million and the Spanish has just
stepped up its demands a notch.

Spain's general director for Artistic and Cultural Heritage is Jose Jimenez.

JOSE JIMENEZ (translated): The idea is that all the Spanish heritage should come back to Spain. The
settlement or an agreement could only be reached along that line.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The treasure was found at a shipwreck site by the Florida-based company Odyssey
Exploration. At the site, code named the Black Swan, the company found more than 500,000 coins -
both silver and gold.

The Spanish Government's Attorney James Goold says there is multiple evidence that the shipwreck
was a famous 19th-century Spanish galleon.

JAMES GOOLD: What Odyssey has done is morally and legally unacceptable. The Mercedes is the Spanish
equivalent of the United States Battle Ship Arizona which exploded and sank in the attack on Pearl
Harbour that brought the United States into World War II.

SARA EVERINGHAM: And he says there's a precedent for all the treasure to be returned to Spain.

JAMES GOOLD: In a very similar case, involving the Spanish Navy Frigates La Galga and Juno, the
treasure hunters were required to return every single coin and other artefact they had taken.

SARA EVERINGHAM: That's not the outcome Odyssey Exploration has in mind.

The woman leading the company's legal defence is Melinda McConnell. She is the company's
vice-president and general counsel.

MELINDA MCCONNELL: We have always been willing to work with different governments or entities who
come forward and propose a valid claim or a valid solution to a shipwreck that we find that they
believe they have a cultural interest in and we would certainly be willing to work with them if
they were interested.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Would you be willing to hand it all over?

MELINDA MCCONNELL: No, no, no, no. They don't have a valid claim to all of this. Most, if not all
of the cargo that the Mercedes was carrying, if it in fact the Black Swan site does turn out to be
related to the Mercedes, was private cargo.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Melinda McConnell says no hull has been found at the shipwreck site and it's too
early to be sure it's the Mercedes

MELINDA MCCONNELL: The fact that the Mercedes may or may not be related to the Black Swan site is
something that we have investigated, and our working hypothesis has been that it is the Mercedes,
although we have not found definitive evidence that would conclude that in fact, a vessel related
to this site is the Mercedes. As I've said, we haven't found a vessel at this site and our
investigation is ongoing as to the artefacts that we have found there.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Melinda McConnell says she's confident the law will show the company has a valid
claim to what it's found.

If that's the case, she says the company would be keen to share its spoils with the world. She says
the company considers itself a steward of history.

While she wasn't giving much away on where the treasure is now, Melinda McConnell says it's safely
being conserved.

ELEANOR HALL: Sara Everingham reporting.