Spanish technicians on Tuesday in Sarasota, Florida, began inspecting the $500 million in gold and silver coins a U.S. firm salvaged in May 2007 and must now hand over to Madrid.
"This is a complex and very minute task that we have to try to get done in three days," a spokesperson for the Spanish Education, Culture and Sports Ministry sent to Sarasota along with a team of technicians told Efe on Tuesday.
Early on Tuesday morning, the delegation went to the headquarters of the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, the firm in charge of keeping custody of the treasure salvaged from the wreck of a 19th-century Spanish navy ship off the coast of Portugal.
Among the team members are the lawyer who has led Madrid's U.S. court battle for the treasure, James Goold, and the cultural attache at the Spanish Embassy in Washington, Guillermo Corral.
At the meeting, the team examined the details of how to carry out the inventory work, the spokesperson told Efe.
The Spanish experts - starting Tuesday - have three days to review the condition of the 17 tons of coins.
The work of the experts consists of comparing the material from the warehouse with the inventory and reports prepared in the past by Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., the Florida-based company that recovered the hoard.
At a hearing last Friday in Tampa, U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo ordered Odyssey to turn over that documentation to the Spanish delegation.
He also ruled that the U.S. Marshals Service should assume responsibility for the coins pending the handover.
Starting on Friday, Spain will be able to remove the treasure from the United States and transport it to Spain. "We want it to be as soon as possible, but it all depends on how the work goes over these (next few) days," the spokesperson said.
In preparation for the fact that the treasure could be transported on Friday, a team of 26 people is already en route to Florida aboard two Spanish military transport planes.
It was more than two years ago that U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday upheld Pizzo's initial finding that Spain was the rightful owner of the treasure Odyssey salvaged from the area 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 the United States.
Madrid, supported by the U.S. government in friend of the court briefs, said 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, contended 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 U.S. Supreme Court rejected on Feb. 2 a motion from Odyssey seeking an injunction against the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' order to turn over the treasure.
Odyssey filed the brief with the Supreme Court days after the 11th Circuit rejected the company's motion to stay the same court's November decision ordering the firm to turn over the coins.
The firm sought an emergency injunction that would give it time to submit a more detailed brief asking the Supreme Court to requisition the case file from the Tampa trial court for review.