Fla. Boat Cleared to Leave Spanish Port

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

MADRID, Spain – A boat belonging to a Tampa, Fla., company in a court battle with Spain over a $500 million sunken treasure was cleared to leave a Spanish port.

Police seized the Ocean Alert last week, about three miles off the southeastern town of Algeciras, and released it after an inspection, authorities and the company said.

A judge in June instructed police to seize two vessels belonging to Odyssey Marine Exploration if they left the British colony of Gibraltar _ on Spain’s southern tip _ and entered Spanish waters.

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Odyssey Marine Exploration, a treasure hunting company, said it had found the colonial-era shipwreck on May 18 and flew the coins to the United States from Gibraltar.

Guardia Civil spokeswoman Maite Sanchez said that the boat would most likely depart Wednesday. She said the Civil Guard would release no information on the inspection.

Spain filed claims last month in a U.S. federal court over Odyssey’s find, arguing that if the shipwreck was Spanish or was removed from its waters, the treasure belongs to Spain.

Odyssey said Tuesday that the inspection would reveal nothing illegal.

Greg Stemm, co-founder of Odyssey Marine Exploration, said the company “consistently communicated our movements in the area to the Guardia Civil and marine traffic authorities.”

“We are pleased to have the ship released so we can put it back to work on other shipwreck projects,” he said.

Odyssey insists the shipwreck was outside any country’s territorial waters, but has not given its exact location or the ship’s name.

Odyssey said it provided a 109-page affidavit to Spanish, British, Gibraltarian and U.S. authorities detailing the discovery.

In Britain, the find generated press reports that Odyssey had salvaged the wreck of the long-sought British vessel Merchant Royal, which sank in bad weather off England in 1641. Odyssey has not confirmed or denied these reports.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)