The El País newspaper has reported that thousands of people descended from the owners of the cargo of gold and silver coins which are now in the hands of the US company Odyssey Marine Exploration can claim their share of the wealth. The coins come from a shipwreck which Odyssey lifted from the seabed early last year. Odyssey claims the ship was lying in international waters “somewhere in the Atlantic” and that the booty belongs to the company while the Spanish government claims the ship is Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes, a warship which was sunk by the British in 1804 off the Cadiz coast, and that the booty therefore belongs to Spain . The newspaper sent a reporter to the Archivo de Indias in Sevilla, which contains thousands of documents dating back to colonial times, to get to the bottom of the matter. He discovered that the larger part of the coins, 697,621 pesos, belonged to 130 Spanish merchants and that only 253,606 pesos belonged to the Crown, according to first hand accounts of the ship’s last fatal journey. By law, the merchants’ direct descendants can now claim their share. The case was complicated a few weeks ago when Peru claimed that the coins were minted from silver and gold mined there and form part of that country’s patrimony. The Peruvian government has said it will make a formal claim to the booty if this turns out to be the case. Will the Brits now put in a claim for “spoils of war”? The saga continues.

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