The Florida firm that salvaged $500 million in gold and silver coins from the bottom of the Atlantic in May 2007 asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to issue an emergency stay against an order compelling the company to hand over the treasure to Spain.
Madrid's interests will not suffer if the handover is delayed for "a few more months" to give the Supreme Court time to consider the case, Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. said in a brief seen by Efe.
Odyssey filed the brief six days after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta rejected the Tampa-based company's motion to stay the same court's November decision ordering the firm to turn over the hoard.
The 11th Circuit is expected this week to formally convey its decision to the District Court in Tampa that originally heard the case, which will then establish a timetable for the handover of the coins.
U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday ruled in December 2009 that Spain was the rightful owner of the treasure Odyssey salvaged in the same area off Portugal where the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a Spanish navy frigate, was destroyed in battle in 1804.
Within days of recovering the $500 million in coins, Odyssey took the loot to Gibraltar and loaded it onto a chartered Boeing-757 for transport back to Florida.
The treasure remains at a secret location in Florida, but Spanish officials have been allowed to conduct periodic inspections to verify that the cargo is intact.
Madrid says the treasure came from the Mercedes and that the vessel and its contents rightfully belong to Spain under the principle of sovereign immunity.
Odyssey, however, contends that contemporaneous Spanish diplomatic communications show the Mercedes was on a commercial mission at the time of her sinking, invalidating Madrid's sovereign immunity claim.
The attorney representing the Spanish government, James Goold, told Efe that based on the brief filed Monday, Odyssey continues to rely on arguments "that have been rejected at every stage of the case."