Florida deep-sea explorers have asked a federal appeals court to overturn an earlier ruling that 17 tonnes of treasure recovered from a sunken Spanish galleon belongs to Spain, deepening a long-running battle over a trove worth an estimated $500 million that has unfolded not on the high seas but in federal courtrooms.
Attorneys for Odyssey Marine Exploration asked the three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the "finders keepers" rule that would give the treasure hunters the rights to silver coins, copper ingots, gold cufflinks and other artifacts salvaged about four years ago from the galleon off the coast of Portugal.
Spain's lawyers countered that US courts are obligated by international treaty and maritime law to uphold Spain's claim to the haul.
The ship, called the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, was sunk by British warships in the Atlantic in 1804 while sailing back from South America with more than 200 people on board. Odyssey created an international splash in May 2007 when it announced that it raised more than 500,000 silver coins and other artifacts from the wreck and flew the treasure back to Tampa.
Spain went to the US district court in Tampa, claiming ownership while Odyssey disputed the Spanish government's ownership of the valuable cargo. A federal judge sided with Spain in June 2009.