TAMPA, Fla. – A federal judge has denied a bid by Florida deep-sea explorers to keep secret the details of a 19th-century shipwreck that has yielded $500 million in treasure, a ruling the Spanish government applauded Friday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo threw out Odyssey Marine Exploration's request Thursday to keep information including the identity of the ship sealed as the company argues with Spain over ownership of the 17 tons of silver coins and other artifacts retrieved last year.
The company followed with a news release announcing that the shipwreck was likely the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes y las Animas, a Spanish galleon that sank in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Portugal in 1804. The announcement confirmed what was already widely believed in Spain and elsewhere.
Spain's Culture Ministry said Friday it will present its conclusions to a judge before a May 9 deadline. James Goold, the Washington-based attorney for the Spanish government, said Spain would proceed "full-speed ahead" with determining the extent of its claim to the treasure.
Odyssey had fought to keep the suspected identity of the shipwreck out of the public eye, fearing others would plunder the site. And, company officials argued, they still don't have conclusive proof that the wreck is the one they think it is.
Pizzo wrote that he "finds it unlikely that the public release of the information would ignite a 'treasure hunting free-for-all' as Odyssey claims."
Pizzo also said he finds the company's "appeal for secrecy to be disingenuous and utterly without merit," especially because Odyssey CEO Greg Stemm had already discussed with a Spanish newspaper the possibility that the wreck in question was the Mercedes.
Stemm and the company "respect the need to make sufficient information public to satisfy the requirement to alert potential claimants," Stemm said in a news release.
Odyssey created an international stir when it announced in May that the 500,000 silver coins and other artifacts worth an estimated $500 million had been raised from an Atlantic wreck and flown back to Tampa. Spain went to U.S. District Court claiming ownership of the treasure if it is connected to the country's national heritage.
Odyssey officials believe the court will award them the majority of the treasure for their efforts. Spain is arguing that it should all be returned because it was never really abandoned.