By Brian Reyes - Gibraltar Chronicle
Leaked US diplomatic correspondence has laid bare the strain that the Odyssey controversy placed on bilateral relations between the UK and Spain.
The cable from the US embassy in Madrid to the Secretary of State in Washington was sent in 2007 shortly after Odyssey Marine Exploration returned to Gibraltar with a valuable treasure it had recovered in the Atlantic.
Spain claimed the “Black Swan” treasure and the presence of two Odyssey ships in the military base in Gibraltar prompted angry diplomatic exchanges at a time when Britain, Spain and Gibraltar were attempting to negotiate important agreements under the trilateral forum for dialogue.
On June 26 of that year, Britain´s then ambassador in Madrid, Denise Holt, paid a courtesy call on her US counterpart, Eduardo Aguirre, and spoke about the case in detail.
She said “...tensions with Spain over Odyssey were continuing to pose an unnecessary threat on the two countries´ bilateral relationship,” the cable noted.
“The British Embassy in Madrid is now intent in distancing themselves as much as possible from the dispute between Odyssey and Spain,” it added.
“Having suffered the brunt of the backlash both in the press and with their interactions with GoS, Ambassador Holt wants to salvage their relationship and improve cooperation between the two countries on the sensitive matter of Gibraltar.”
“The Ambassadors agreed that the Odyssey “treasure find” should not weaken bilateral relations between three allies and that both countries should encourage Odyssey and Spain to find a satisfactory solution to the dispute..”
Part of Spain´s concern was that the treasure had been flown from Gibraltar to Florida and officials in Madrid, initially at least, suspected that British authorities had aided the company. Likewise the two Odyssey ships were berthed in the Ministry of Defence naval base, where they had been regular callers for many years, prompting further suspicions.
Mrs Holt told the US ambassador that Britain was in no way linked to the Black Swan haul and that the only link was the contractual agreement with the MoD to salvage the wreck of an English galleon, HMS Sussex, which lay off Gibraltar.
She told Mr Aguirre that Britain´s contract with Odyssey would be reviewed “in an attempt to terminate” it.
“Holt noted that she would be describing to London the impact that the Odyssey controversy was having locally on bilateral relations (as well as on Gibraltar issues),” the cable said.
“She confirmed that though the two Odyssey vessels were in port in Gibraltar, the British would not aid the vessels when and if they should sail out.”
Both vessels sailed from the Rock some weeks after the cable was sent and both were detained by Spanish authorities in international waters and taken to Algeciras, where they were searched and later released.