Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., a pioneer in the field of deep-ocean shipwreck exploration, is pleased to report that Captain Sterling Vorus has been cleared of all charges by a court in Algeciras, Spain relating to the blockade and boarding of the Odyssey Explorer. The Spanish court ruled that Spanish officials did not have proper authorization to board or search Odyssey's ship in 2007.
The court relied on Spanish law that prevents the Guardia Civil from boarding or searching foreign ships without authorization of the captain or the vessel's flag state, which was never obtained. Therefore, Captain Vorus's actions did not rise to the level of illicit conduct contemplated by the portion of the Spanish penal code under which he was charged.
Although the blockade and boarding of Odyssey's vessels were in reaction to Odyssey's "Black Swan" find, the opinion of the court does not specifically reference the "Black Swan." The court's decision is, however, consistent with Odyssey's position that the company has consistently acted legally and appropriately in accordance with all laws and regulations related to the "Black Swan" arrest and recovery. The company believes that justice will ultimately prevail in the "Black Swan" case in the U.S. courts as well and has filed an appeal of the trial court's dismissal of the case, citing a recent appellate decision which held that a sovereign government must be in actual possession of property in order to claim that the property is immune from the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.
"The Spanish ruling clearing our captain of any wrongdoing is a step in the right direction," stated Melinda MacConnel, Odyssey Vice President and General Counsel. "We are very pleased that the Spanish court ruled based on the facts of the case instead of relying on innuendo and false reports, which instigated the search of our vessels in the first place."
"We hope the court's decision will encourage the development of positive relations with Spanish officials." commented Greg Stemm, Odyssey CEO. "The company is pleased to reiterate its offer to work with the Spanish Government to create a public/private partnership for its nation's shipwreck resources, thereby helping to finance cultural and historical initiatives over the long term."
About the "Black Swan"
In May 2007, Odyssey announced the discovery of the "Black Swan," a Colonial-period site located in the Atlantic Ocean that yielded over 500,000 silver coins weighing more than 17 tons, hundreds of gold coins, worked gold, and other artifacts. Odyssey completed an extensive pre-disturbance survey of the "Black Swan" site, which included recording over 14,000 digital still images used to create a photomosaic of the site.
The coins and artifacts were brought into the United States with a valid export license and imported legally pursuant to U.S. law. Odyssey brought the artifacts under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Federal Court by filing an Admiralty arrest action. This procedure allows any legitimate claimants with an interest in the property to make a claim.
Captain Vorus was arrested by the Spanish Guardia Civil in October 2007, following his refusal to allow the Guardia Civil to forcibly board the Odyssey Explorer in the aftermath of spurious allegations that the ship was involved in illicit activities relating to the "Black Swan." Captain Vorus, a U.S. citizen, was taken into custody and imprisoned by the Spanish Guardia Civil before being released to await a ruling in the case.