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Odyssey Marine Drops as Court Upholds ‘Black Swan’ Ruling

Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. fell as much as 44 percent as an appeals court upheld a ruling that property it recovered from a sunken ship code-named “Black Swan” must be returned to Spain.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta affirmed the lower-court ruling in a decision today.

“The district court did not err when it ordered Odyssey to release” the property to Spain, the appeals court said.

In December 2009, U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday in Tampa, Florida, backed Spain’s position on the treasure from the ship, whose full name is Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, and dismissed the case that Odyssey Marine had brought. Merryday had said Odyssey could hold the property while it pursued its appeal.

Odyssey fell to $1.80 before closing at $2.16, down 33 percent, in Nasdaq Stock Market trading.

The company will ask the full appeals court to rehear the case, it said in a statement.

“While we were surprised by the ruling and are obviously not pleased with the opinion, there is no near-term economic impact on the company,” President Mark Gordon said in the statement.

Odyssey, which searches for sunken treasure, said in May 2007 it recovered more than 17 tons (15,422 kilograms) of silver coins from the ship, which went down in the Atlantic Ocean off the Strait of Gibraltar.

‘Pivotal 1804 Engagement’

Spain, contesting the company’s claim to the wreck, said it is “a Spanish frigate that exploded in a pivotal 1804 engagement with the British and precipitated Spain’s declaration of war against Britain,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Pizzo wrote in a June 2009 report.

Pizzo agreed with Spain that the U.S. lacks jurisdiction over the case and recommended that Merryday dismiss it and order the property returned to Spain, which he did.

Odyssey argued the ship isn’t entitled to sovereign immunity because it was “primarily on a commercial voyage when it sank, and therefore should not be considered as a ‘warship,’” the company said in the statement. More than 70 percent of the coins never belonged to Spain, the company has said.

The case is Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. v. The Unidentified Shipwrecked Vessel, 10-10269, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (Atlanta), and 8:07-cv-00614, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida (Tampa).

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