The Florida firm that salvaged $500 million in gold and silver coins from the bottom of the Atlantic in May 2007 will be forced to hand over the treasure to Spain unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes.
In a brief ruling seen by Efe, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta rejected on Tuesday a motion from Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. to stay the same court's November decision ordering the company to turn over the hoard.
Odyssey has asked the Supreme Court to hear its appeal, but the process put in motion by the 11th Circuit's decision will continue in the meantime.
The 11th Circuit will 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.
The formal notification should happen within the next 10 days, the attorney representing the Spanish government, James Goold, told Efe Tuesday, suggesting that the U.S. Supreme Court is very unlikely to agree to consider Odyssey's appeal.
U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday ruled in December 2009 that Spain was the rightful owner of the treasure Odyssey salvaged off the Portuguese coast in the same 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 Florida.
The treasure remains at a secret location in Florida.
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 11th Circuit upheld Merryday's decision in November, prompting Odyssey to apply for a stay pending its last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court.