A Spanish warship seized an American treasure-hunting vessel at gunpoint yesterday, believing it had taken goods worth millions of dollars from a sunken Spanish galleon that is the subject of an increasingly tense international stand-off.
Patrol boats from Spain's maritime police intercepted the 76m Odyssey Explorer – owned by the underwater salvage firm Odyssey Marine International – three miles off the coast of Gibraltar.
The Spanish Navy corvette blocked the path of the Explorer and threatened to open fire when the captain refused to let police board. The warship then escorted the private boat to the Spanish port of Algeciras for inspection by the police.
"They threatened that we must obey or they would use deadly force," Ali Nessar, a company representative on the boat, said. "We were forced at gunpoint to come to Algeciras." Spanish police said they have a court order to search the vessel. However, the company said no access would be granted as soon as the boat docks in Algeciras. "We are not going to allow them on board," Mr Nessar said.
Madrid suspects the US company has recovered treasure either from within Spanish waters or a Spanish galleon in international waters. Both scenarios would give Madrid a claim to the goods.
However, Odyssey Marine Exploration claims that the gold and silver coins worth an estimated $500m (£250m) were discovered legally during searches of a wreck, code-named Black Swan, at a secret location in the Atlantic Ocean.
Yesterday's incident is the second time the Spanish police have stopped an Odyssey Marine Exploration ship. In July, police confiscated computer hard drives after searching the vessel Ocean Alert, which was also intercepted on leaving Gibraltar.