The legal grappling between deep-sea explorers and the Spanish government over an estimated $500 million in sunken treasure could drag on for another year or more, according to court documents filed Tuesday.
A case management report filed in federal court indicated that Odyssey Marine Exploration, based in Tampa, and attorneys for the Spanish government agree on little beyond their ability to be ready for a trial sometime after Oct. 1, 2008.
Spain has filed claims to the vast treasure of Colonial-era silver and gold coins and other artifacts that Odyssey salvaged from an undisclosed shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean this year.
Spain contends it is entitled to the treasure if it or the ship belonged to Spain, or if the treasure was removed from Spain's territorial waters.
Odyssey, citing security concerns, has said publicly only that the wreck was situated in international waters, but an export document filed with the court last month indicated the treasure was found about 200 miles west of Gibraltar, a British territory at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.
An attorney for Spain has asked a judge to order Odyssey to disclose the exact location and identity of the shipwreck, which the company has code-named "Black Swan."
"They've yet to provide any of the information that has been demanded of them," said James A. Goold, an attorney for the Spanish government. "This has been going on for a long time, and it's increasingly disturbing."
Odyssey has argued in court filings that it has followed proper legal channels in seeking exclusive rights to the wreck site in U.S. District Court and must continue to keep the wreck's location secret to protect it from competing salvagers.
Odyssey co-founder Greg Stemm said Tuesday that the company has offered to share information with opposing attorneys if they agree to keep it secret. But Goold said Spain is pushing for full, unconditional disclosure of all details - especially regarding the types and characteristics of the coins. He did say, however, that he would agree not to disclose the wreck's exact location.
The legal challenge could be resolved within the next year, Stemm said.
"We want to go to trial as quickly as we possibly can," he said.
The situation has led to deteriorating relations between Odyssey and the Spanish government, which briefly detained the company's two vessels leaving Gibraltar.
Stemm said the company has been unfairly portrayed as modern-day pirates looting archeologically significant shipwrecks for profit, a reputation that has been perpetuated in the European press.
It is routine for other countries or parties to challenge treasure finds in U.S. federal court if they believe they have a claim, he said, and a judge will ultimately decide if the claim has merit.
© 2007 - Associated Press