Sunken treasure case headed to federal appeals court (Tampa Bay)

A higher federal court will now hear the legal dispute over just who owns the richest sunken treasure ever found, either Tampa's Odyssey Marine, which found the treasure, or Spain, which claims it as a historic artifact.

In summer 2007, Odyssey located more than half a billion dollars in gold and silver coins on the floor of the Atlantic in a wreck ultimately identified, most likely, as the Mercedes warship, carrying freight from South America to Spain in the 18th century.

The coins now sit in a vault in an undisclosed location somewhere in Florida -- outside Tampa, Odyssey officials say. Spanish officials have protested, claiming the treasure is Spanish government property, and must be returned.

The case involves complex admiralty and international salvage law, partly over whether the vessel was a warship carrying noncommercial property at the time it sank. Tuesday, a federal judge in Tampa effectively kicked the issue to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

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