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Spain Rejects Peruvian Claim To Shipwreck Treasure

DANIEL WOOLLS

MADRID (AP) â¿¿ Spain on Monday rejected Peru's claim to a huge multimillion-dollar undersea treasure recovered from the wreckage of a ship that had left from Lima's port more than 200 years ago.

Spain recovered the nearly 600,000 coins â¿¿ mostly silver but a few made of gold â¿¿ on Saturday after they were flown to Madrid from the United States. That marked the culmination of Spain's five-year battle in U.S. courts with a Florida deep-sea exploration firm that in 2007 found the remains of a ship believed to be the Spanish frigate Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes.

The Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. found the shipwreck off Portugal near the Strait of Gibraltar, taking the booty first to the British colony of Gibraltar at Spain's southern tip and then to Florida.

On Monday, Spain's education, culture and sports minister, Jose Ignacio Wert, told a packed news conference the final U.S. court ruling stated that "the legacy of the Mercedes belongs to Spain."

None of the treasure itself was displayed at the news conference, just a few photos on a TV screen. One showed a white plastic laundry-basket type container full of dull, crud-covered silver coins, large and thin.

After two centuries under water, parts of the trove of coins are stuck together in big chunks, sometimes in the very shape of the chests or sacks they were originally stored in, said Milagros Buendia, part of the specialized team that went to Florida to get the booty.

Wert said Spain will now set about classifying and restoring the 594,000 coins and other artifacts involved before it figures out how to display them for the public.

"It will thus be a fairly complex job and is going to take some time," Wert said.

At the time of their discovery, the coins were estimated to be worth as much as $500 million (euro300 million) to collectors, which would have made it the richest shipwreck haul in history.

Stock quotes in this article: OMEX 

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