US firm denied permission to hunt treasure in Spanish galleon

February 19th, 2009 - 10:02 am ICT by IANS  

Mexico City, Feb 19 (EFE) Mexican authorities have rejected a request by a US-based firm to comb the wreck of a Spanish galleon that sank in 1631 in the Gulf of Mexico.
The National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) said in a communique that the two requests presented by Odyssey Marine Exploration in 2006 and 2008 “do not meet the requirements that regulations establish for archaeological investigation in Mexico”.

INAH based its rejection of the request on the fact that the US firm “neither has the intention to do research nor the backing of archaeologists or of an academic institution of recognised prestige, conditions without which it is impossible to authorise this type of initiative”.

The institution explained that the two requests by Odyssey concerned the exploration of the Nuestra Senora del Juncal, a galleon that sank in the Bay of Campeche in 1631 and that has “always been in the sights of treasure hunters”.

The galleon was part of the Fleet of New Spain composed of 19 royal vessels that set sail from Mexico for Spain Oct 14, 1631, loaded with precious goods.

Most of the boats sank in Mexican waters in a storm, INAH said, adding that it began its own search for the vessel in 1995.

The first investigations were conducted in the archives of Mexico, Spain and Cuba, as well as at sea using a network of remote sensors and a geographic positioning system, INAH said.

Since the 1970s, INAH has denied more than 30 requests from Mexicans and foreigners to remove objects, including gold bullion, from vessels submerged in Mexican waters.

“All the requests, some of them ridiculous and others very well formulated, include the intention of salvaging these vessels that have cargoes important in economic terms (gold, silver and precious stones), alleging that (such items are) not historical. This is an error of conception,” said Pilar Luna Erreguerena, the assistant director of Underwater Archaeology at INAH.

She said that “a vessel is a ‘time capsule’ and everything it contains is historical, archaeological material”.

In 2006, Mexico ratified the UN Convention on Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, a legal instrument that obliges signatories not to negotiate away that legacy and which went into effect in Mexico at the beginning of this year, INAH said.

Mexico has 11,000 km of coastline and its territory extends out into the sea as much as 200 nautical miles, within which different jurisdictional regimes are in force.

Odyssey is involved in a contentious dispute with the Spanish government in US federal court over the ownership of treasure valued as $500 million that the company found with the wreck of the Spanish frigate Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which sank in 1804 in the Atlantic Ocean.

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