James DelSordo

Lawyer lobbies to help salvors

By Adam Linhardt - Storm Keys news


Fortunes in sunken treasure await discovery off the Colombian coast and new opportunities "beyond anything anyone ever dreamed" lay ahead for salvors, despite a recent U.S. court decision, said a former attorney for a company vying for billions of dollars in treasure. 

A federal court on Monday dismissed a claim by the Seattle-based Sea Search Armada salvage company to half of the treasure it claims is buried within the Spanish galleon San Jose, which sank after an explosion while trying to outrun a fleet of British warships on June 8, 1708.

Salvors say the San Jose now rests in 700 feet of water on the edge of the Continental Shelf near the port of Cartagena, but whether they are right, and whether untold riches lay with the wreck, remains to be seen as no treasure has yet been lifted from the seabed. 

Sea Search Armada has been at legal loggerheads with the Colombian government for 20 years over who owns what some believe to be as much as $17 billion in gold, silver and emeralds aboard the ill-fated San Jose.

"If this really is the San Jose, honest to God, it will be beyond belief," said former Sea Search Armada attorney and Key West resident David Paul Horan.

According to a summary of the Sea Search complaint, Sea Search Armada claims to have found the San Jose in 1981. The Colombian government agreed that it would split the riches with the salvor. But the Colombian government later reneged and passed a law stating that Sea Search Armada could have only 5 percent of the treasure as part of a finder's fee, the complaint states.

That law lit a slow-burning powder keg of legal tumult that appeared to culminate -- barring an appeal -- in Sea Search Armada's claim in U.S. federal court. On Monday, the U.S. court basically said the statute of limitations had run out for Sea Search Armada. 

James DelSordo, an attorney representing Sea Search Armada, told the Associated Press on Monday that his client is considering its legal options and that the U.S. decision was "inaccurate" and "incorrect."

Horan quit working for Sea Search Armada in the mid-1980s, citing fears that drug cartels were controlling the government or their negotiators, but he has been watching the case closely and believes the Colombian government is ready to forge a more permanent accord with salvors.

In other words, lobbyists for treasure salvors are ready to strike a deal with Colombian lawmakers that would better benefit salvors as well as the government.

The government, Horan intends to argue, need salvors to find the treasure. If they run them all off, nobody wins, he said. 

The Colombian legislature is drafting future laws on how to deal with future salvage cases, Horan said. There needs to be standing law that benefits salvors and the government, because both sides benefit, he said.


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