By Rossella Lorenzi - News Discovery
A fabulous sunken treasure recovered from a Spanish wreck in the Atlantic Ocean is flying back home from the United States, ending a five-year legal battle.
The treasure was put aboard two Spanish military C-130 planes. They took off Friday from a Florida Air Force base with 595,000 silver coins and other gold aboard. They are expected to land in Madrid's Torrejon Air Base after a 24-hour flight with two stops on the way -- New Jersey and the Azores.
"Today a journey that began 200 years ago is finally ending. We are recovering a historical legacy and a treasure. This is not money. This is historical heritage," Spain's ambassador to the United States, Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo, was reported as saying as the planes took off.
Consisting of 18th-century silver coins weighing more than 17 tons, hundreds of gold coins, worked gold and other artifacts, the treasure has been at the center of an acrimonious international legal battle ever since it was discovered in 2007 by underwater robots from Odyssey Marine Exploration, a Florida-based treasure-hunting company.
Valued at as much as $500 million -- the richest shipwreck haul in history -- the trove was handled by Odyssey and shipped straight to the United States.
The company, which, according to earnings statements, spent $2.6 million to retrieve, transport, store and conserve the precious cargo, has been unable to remove the silver and gold coins from warehouses at the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation in Sarasota, Fla.
Immediately after the treasure was recovered, Spain filed a claim arguing that the treasure originated from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes.
The 36-gun Spanish frigate sank off the coast of Portugal in 1804 with 200 people aboard following a battle with four British navy ships.
According to an international maritime law known as the doctrine of sovereign immunity, active-duty naval vessels on a noncommercial mission remain the property of the countries that commissioned them. Spain thus claimed the exclusive property of the wreck and its cargo.