Odyssey Marine Exploration, a U.S. company formed to locate and recover sunken treasure, had one of its ships boarded and seized by the Spanish government in international waters, according to BBC News. So what’s the big deal here?

  1. Odyssey has recovered potentially $500 million in gold and silver coins from a shipwreck which it has not yet identified but is likely to be several hundred years old.
  2. Spain claims that all its sunken treasure remains the property of Spain, no matter where it is found.
  3. If the shipwreck is indeed from a Spanish treasure ship, then it was stolen from the peoples in Central and South America. This does not make it Spanish property, unless countries in the 21st century are playing by rules of “I stole it fair and square”.
  4. No matter what the original nationality of the ship, I don’t see what claim a country would have to a several hundred year-old wreck in international waters unless they have been trying to recover it themselves. If not, wouldn’t it be unclaimed salvage?

If Spain really wants to pursue this in international courts, perhaps it would make sense for descendants of people who were affected by Spain’s numerous affronts to human dignity to make a claim against Spain. For instance, people with Aztec or Mayan heritage; descendants of the Jews who were thrown out of Spain; and anyone affected by the Spanish Inquisition.

Spain has a lot to answer for.

P.S. I have no connection to Odyssey. I wish!