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Spanish declare war over sunken treasure
By Isambard Wilkinson in Madrid
(Filed: 26/06/2003)


Spain threatened yesterday to arrest members of a salvage operation that is authorised by Britain to recover up to £3 billion from the wreck of a 17th century warship.

The ship, believed by the British Government to be the 80-gun third-rater Sussex, lies at a depth of nearly 3,000ft in Spanish waters near Gibraltar. It is thought to contain 10 tons of gold and 100 tons of silver.

Under international law, Britain owns the salvage rights. An American company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, under the aegis of the Ministry of Defence, has said it will begin the salvage operation this summer.

However, Spanish officials have warned Odyssey not to touch the vessel without their permission and have cast doubt on whether the wreck is that of the Sussex.

The fight has escalated, with Spain denying that Britain has its permission to explore the vessel. It has threatened to arrest or expel any British proxies who attempt to do so.

A spokesman for the Spanish foreign ministry said: "We will expel them from Spanish waters or arrest them. It's a crime and we will open criminal proceedings against them.

"It's like a Spanish ship in the mouth of the Thames. They must have permission.

"We have given instructions to Odyssey to refrain from all search works without first obtaining permission from the Spanish government.

"We also warned them that they will not obtain permission for exploration without proving that the cargo of gold belongs to the Sussex, of which there are serious doubts."

Both Odyssey and the MoD believe that the wreck is the Sussex. An MoD spokesman confirmed yesterday that the salvage operation would begin in the summer.

He added that Spain was aware that it must honour the internationally recognised law on wrecks so that it could exploit the hundreds of Spanish wrecks that have been discovered elsewhere. He cited two examples of Spanish ships in American waters that Spain had claimed.

The Sussex was part of a British fleet sent to the Mediterranean to contain the expansionist plans of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

Historians believe it was secretly ferrying gold to buy the loyalty of the Duke of Savoy. It sank in 1694 in a storm in the Straits of Gibraltar with only two of its 500 crew and soldiers surviving.

The location of the wreck has not been revealed but it is thought to lie off the coast of Cadiz.

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo said the looming dispute over the wreck would be "as hard as the Battle of Trafalgar".

It asked: "Is this Spanish revenge in the 21st century for the British pillage of [Spanish] gold galleons sailing from America in the 17th century?"

Spanish officials said a 9ft iron cannon retrieved from the wreck was not British, as claimed by Odyssey, but Dutch. British and Australian maritime archaeologists have also raised grave doubts about the wreck's identity.

George Lambrick, director of the Council for British Archaeology, said he was not convinced it was the Sussex.

Odyssey's share of the spoils will be 80 per cent of the first £28 million raised. The next £319 million will be divided between the Treasury and the American company. The Treasury will then get 60 per cent of any further booty.

Extra Reading:

http://www.shipwreck.net/

http://www.louis-xiv.de/

http://www.royalnavalmuseum.org/
 

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Don't know the ins and outs of international law but

[b said:
Quote[/b] ]The Spanish newspaper El Mundo said the looming dispute over the wreck would be "as hard as the Battle of Trafalgar".
if I recall correctly, didn't Spian loose that one?


Goes off whistling "Rule Britannia"......
 

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[b said:
Quote[/b] (JohnR @ June 27 2003,10:42)]
[b said:
Quote[/b] ]The Spanish newspaper El Mundo said the looming dispute over the wreck would be "as hard as the Battle of Trafalgar".
if I recall correctly, didn't Spian loose that one?
Sort of, Nelson's fleet beat a combined Napoleonic fleet of French and Spanish ships.

Good value, 2 for the price of 1  


Adrian
 
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