Spanish Treasure Hunter? Not so Fast Says 11th Circuit

In a case ripped from the tales of yore or the latest installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. courts had no in rem jurisdiction over a sunken Spanish ship. The case is Odyssey Marine Exploration v. The Unidentified Shipwrecked Vessel, Its Apparel, Tackle, Appurtenances & Cargo Located Within Ctr. Point Coordinates, in re M, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 19379 and the opinion can be found here. Opening Scene: A Spanish frigate sunk in 1804 near the Straits of Gibraltar. It was discovered by a salvor in 2007. Plot Hook: [In my best pirate voice] Arrrr, which bloke lays claim to the treasure found in Davy Jones Locker? Cast: the Kingdom of Spain, the Republic of Peru, the United States as amicus, descendants of the lost crew, a claimant who claimed "ancestral interest in any of Spain's treasure in Florida," and the salvor. Script: This case turned on the Foreign Sovereign Immunites Act which restricts federal court's jurisdiction over the property of a foreign country. So, for the federal court to have in rem jurisdiction over the shipwreck, it must be provided for in the FSIA. The court reviewed the various exceptions to immunity of a foreign state's property. Ultimately, it found that the federal courts did not have jurisdiction over the sunken ship. Therefore, the claim, in rem, failed.

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