Spain battles for ownership of shipwreck treasure

Spanish coast

By Danny Wood - DW. World

Spain and a deep-sea exploration company are battling over an 18th century treasure ship discovered off the Portuguese coast, which holds thousands of precious coins.

In 2007, the shipwreck of a two hundred-year-old Spanish treasure ship was re-discovered off the coast of Portugal by the American company, Odyssey Marine Exploration.

The galleon "Mercedes" was returning from the Spanish colony of Peru in 1804 when it was sunk by the British navy.

Completely intact, its treasure of 600,000 gold and silver coins has an estimated worth of 350 million euros ($495 million).

After its discovery, Odyssey took the ship back to the United States, causing the Spanish government to accuse the company of plundering Spain's heritage. It is now demanding the return of the Mercedes and its treasure.

Jose Maria de Alvear is a descendant of Diego de Alvear, the second in command of the Spanish treasure ship. He is among more than a hundred descendants of the crew of the Mercedes who are supporting the Spanish government's legal bid to have the treasure returned to Spain.

"De Alvear was my great, great, great Grandfather who saw the tragedy of the Mercedes from the other boat because he was the second in command of the fleet," de Alvear explained while pointing out a portrait in Madrid's Naval Museum of a dashing looking Diego de Alvear wearing his red and dark navy blue uniform.

"He saw the Mercedes sink into the deep of the ocean with his wife and seven of his eight children dying in the tragedy," de Alvear said.

De Alvear firmly believes the ship should be returned to Spain. "We want to keep not just the treasure but also the memories of Spain and our memories."


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