THE SEA HUNT CASE
History on Trial
Some say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. No one can tell what story may lie behind a paper facade. Such is the case with the opinion of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Sea Hunt Case handed down in 2000. Two shipwrecks were awarded to Spain. And neither of them were Spanish.
The Sea Hunt case has been used as a battering ram against Odyssey Marine Exploration by the Kingdom of Spain in its effort to recover a purported half billion dollar treasure from the salvage company who brought up not only magnificent treasures and artifacts for the world to see but solved a historical mystery that is centuries old.
Since 2007, when Odyssey filed its claim to 17 tons of what appears to be Spanish treasure, Spain has asserted has a defense to that claim the precedent found in the Sea Hunt case. This was the first time that Spain had entered a claim in a treasure case. Just recently, Spain has argued that since the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal in the Sea Hunt case that Odyssey will be reviewed the same way so they might as well hand over the treasure now. They would like to deny Odyssey rights that are available to them as they pursue equity in the recovery of Spanish treasures. Spain is demanding possession of the treasure before the case has run its full course.
In the Odyssey case Spain repeatedly cited the Sea Hunt case as a precedent. When the District Court hearing the case issued is ruling it cited the Sea Hunt case. During the Eleventh Circuit appeal Spain again invoked the Sea Hunt case to its benefit. And when that court sided with Spain they cited the Sea Hunt case to justify its interpretation of the 1902 Treaty of Friendship between Spain and the U.S.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing Sea Hunt issued its opinion on July 21, 2000. The legal findings of fact and law that go to the heart of jurisdiction and Spain’s legal standing in this case are these:
1. “This in rem admiralty action concerns the sovereign rights of the Kingdom of Spain to two of its Royal Naval vessels, LA GALGA and JUNO, which were lost off the shores of present-day Virginia in 1750 and 1802 respectively.”
COMMENT: For this to be an in rem admiralty action where the sovereign rights of Spain could be adjudicated; (a) the defendant vessels had to lie in navigable waters. (b) Spanish property must have actually been recovered from these vessels.
“LA GALGA remained undisturbed until the recent salvage efforts by Sea
“Sea Hunt claims that its efforts have resulted in finding the remains of LA
COMMENT: Sea Hunt did not find either vessel as the court record clearly demonstrates.
4. “As sovereign vessels of Spain, LA GALGA and JUNO are covered by the 1902 Treaty of Friendship and General Relations between the United States and Spain. The reciprocal immunities established by this treaty are essential to protecting United States shipwrecks and military gravesites. Under the terms of this treaty, Spanish vessels, like those belonging to the United States, may only be abandoned by express acts. Sea Hunt cannot show by clear and convincing evidence that the Kingdom of Spain has expressly abandoned these ships in either the 1763 Treaty or the 1819 Treaty of Amity, Settlement and Limits, which ended the War of 1812.”
COMMENT: The court had no authority to review treaties between the United States and Spain and Spain’s rights to lost navy ships unless those ships were actually before the court and under in rem arrest.
5. “We reverse the judgment of the district court that the Kingdom of Spain abandoned the vessel LA GALGA. We affirm the judgment of the district court as to JUNO. Both vessels remain the property of Spain.”
COMMENT: The two vessels awarded to Spain were unidentified merchant vessels that belonged to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Before we take a seat in the courtroom I would like to introduce to you the alleged defendants in this case. In an in rem admiralty action the vessel is the defendant and its owner is called to appear to either stake his claim and/or surrender value to the Plaintiff (salvor) for services rendered.
On September 5, 1750, the Spanish warship, La Galga, ran ashore on Assateague Island, Virginia. She had been blown off her intended course near Cape Canaveral, Florida where she and six other ships were preparing to turn for Spain. After the wreck, the ship sat in shallow water while the crew came ashore in Indian canoes and a makeshift raft that was pulled to shore by means of a rope that was tied from La Galga to another wreck on the beach. It took three days to get everyone ashore. Five people drowned trying to get to shore, no one perished on the wreck. By the time the Spaniards left, the hull was covered with sand. The locals at that time informed the Captain Don Daniel Huony that the ship was near the border between Maryland and Virginia lying on the Virginia side. Huony told the locals that the “Owner of the Land owned the ship.” He was told before he left that his ship lay in Virginia near the border with Maryland. The sheriff of Worcester County, Maryland, inspected the wreck days later. He observed and commented about the mahogany planks still on board: “There is many thousands of pounds worth if it could be got before the ship bursts with the Sea and Sinks into the Land.”
Later, while at Norfolk, Virginia, Captain Huony wrote a letter to the governor of Maryland to ask for assistance in recovering items taken from the wreck. He had learned that a recent survey had moved the Colonial boundary line south and the shipwreck was now lying within two ship lengths north of the new line now putting La Galga in his jurisdiction. In 1908, that letter was published by the state of Maryland in its State Archive Series. In recent decades the location of the wreck has become common knowledge as it has been described in tourist literature and local histories. In 1978, I read the letter and decided to pursue locating her. Since I had not heard of anyone finding the wreck up to that point I knew that the boundary line back in 1750 had to be different than it is today. I located a letter from the acting governor of Virginia to the Board of Trade in England that described the boundary only weeks after the wreck. The line crossed Chincoteague Bay and ended at Assateague “about latitude 38 degrees.” This was two miles south of the present line. At the same time I began my search, a con man named Donald Stewart from Ocean City, Maryland, was beginning his search for La Galga. He was so convinced that the shipwreck would be discovered near the present boundary that he displayed Spanish coins and other artifacts that he claimed he found in shallow water at this site to potential investors. I was one of them. I did not invest at first. But I made the fateful decision to move my search from latitude 38? to the present line in order to beat him to the wreck. I got some magnetometer readings a little south of the present line. I thought perhaps I might have found La Galga. Stewart incorporated as Subaqueous Exploration and Archaeology Ltd. (SEA, Ltd.) and began raising money. The summer of 1980 ended, my partner quit, and my money ran out. I contacted Stewart and told him what I was doing. He showed me forged research documents which led me to believe that the ship was lying where I got the mag readings and that La Galga was carrying millions in treasure. I invested and later quit my job in DC and worked full time for SEA as the only diver and the magnetometer operator. SEA had invested $25,000 in a Varian proton magnetometer so we had the right detection gear. The first person I met at SEA, Ltd., was another investor named Rick Cook. Rick had no experience in diving or historical research but he became infected with treasure fever. He and I became good friends.
We made a number of trips to the so-called site of La Galga and thoroughly mapped it. It seemed that there was not a whole lot of magnetic material there. I found a piece of wood that looked to have been burnt. We all started to lose faith in this site so Stewart diverted everyone’s attention to other wrecks off of Ocean City. By the end of the first year, I realized that Stewart was a con man and had us chasing wrecks that didn’t even exist. I organized some of the investors in a law suit against him. Rick Cook did not want to participate because he still believed in Stewart. I also organized a few who wanted to go back and find La Galga. Rick Cook wanted in. I decided to pursue more research on the boundary question. After a search in the Spanish archives we could not find anything that would help pinpoint La Galga’s location. Soon enough, I found what we needed. It was a plat of Assateague Island prepared for the federal government in 1943 for its condemnation proceedings of the land to be taken by the Department of Interior. After that it became the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The plat documented the colonial boundaries that were referred to in land patents dating back to 1687. Without a doubt, we knew the shipwreck would be found close to latitude 38. We searched the area and it was not there. We then searched the whole two miles between latitude 38 and the present line. This task did not take very long. With a boat speed of five mph and running courses parallel to the beach in fifty foot increments going out a thousand yards (the ship was run aground in shallow water) we accomplished this in a few days. With no luck, we repeated it. I then found a plat dated 1840 that showed us why we hadn’t found the wreck. The beach had grown out. With this information and that provided to me by knowledgeable locals about Spanish artifacts being found in the remains on an old inlet, we zeroed in with a portable magnetometer. In late 1983 we reported our finds
and research to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The National Park Service, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and other interested parties. The news spread through the Washington Post, USA Today and other local papers. There was nothing left to do but wait on the federal government to take over which we were sure that they would. I even offered to bring our portable magnetometer to the site and make the demonstration. They refused.
NOAA picked up the discovery and included it in their AWOIS database of shipwrecks.
The hunt was over for all but one of us. Rick Cook refused to accept that his treasure hunt was over. He left our group and started Alpha Quest. He looked miles north of the present line with no luck. He found out about another treasure hunter named Alan Riebe who had been working the area. In November 1980, he had filed for a permit from the Commonwealth of Virginia but was turned down forced him to abandon and recovery effort. After several years Cook settled on the notion that we had found the wreck in 1981 under Stewart’s direction. For the next six years he looked for a way to prove that he had found La Galga. At long last he found a map of a survey done in 1868 which showed the boundary line much the same as it is today and which ran through his wreck site. He didn’t realize that the boundary as drawn did not go into effect on Assateague until 1883. The surveyors had extended the line on the mainland which had changed little since it was drawn in 1668. There are maps and plats that document a different boundary for Assateague. In 1990, he convinced an Ocean City magazine that he had found La Galga in the very spot that not only had we ruled out but was disregarded as well by the Commonwealth of Virginia. He obtained a search only permit from Virginia the year before. He published his research notes that included photocopies of documents that were bound in a ring binder.
In 1996, Ben Benson, the founder of Sea Hunt, contacted Rick Cook. Cook loaned him his research and it appeared that they might be partners in a joint effort to salvage Cook’s version of La Galga. Benson was quite taken with Cook’s knowledge and was seduced by his enthusiasm and power of persuasion. In 1997, Benson received a salvage permit from Virginia and excluded Cook from his operations.
On March 11, 1998, Sea Hunt filed claim to an unidentified shipwreck that they believed was La Galga. From what I know of this case it appears that Sea Hunt’s beliefs were based totally on the false assumptions made by Cook. At the same time, they laid claim to another Spanish warship called the Juno.
On October 1, 1802, the Spanish frigate, Juno, left Puerto Rico, for Cadiz, Spain. On board were 413 soldiers and their families. As she neared Bermuda, she encountered continuous squalls forcing the Juno to sail northward for better weather. The ship began to leak. On the night of the 22nd, there were big waves and a stiff wind from the northeast, the topsail split and the ship remained unable to continue sailing for half an hour until the mizzen mast was cut. The wind was so furious that it wrenched both the main mast and the fore top sail, throwing the mainmast against the handrail and opened the side of the ship. The caulker reported six feet of water in the hold. Four pumps were manned with the soldiers and sailors taking turns at the pump.
On the 25th of October the weather cleared and the Captain investigated the origin of the leak. The lower part of the ship showed that the problem was in the boatswain's storeroom. The captain ordered the artillery from the mainmast to the bow and two anchors thrown overboard. The storerooms were cleared and supplies moved back to the stern. All methods were tried to stop the leak in the boatswain's area and none proved to be successful. Oakum and plaster were applied to the seams and sails were drawn over the outside of the hull. The water continued to increase.
On the 27th, Captain
Pourland of the Favorite was informed that the Juno had lost
her rudder during the night and that the pumps were no longer able to
sustain the leaks. The men bailed water by hand now in the bow and the
stern, and a steering oar was set up to replace the rudder. So they
continued and at midday the ship was at 38 degrees latitude, 69.56 degrees
longitude. In the last three days they had travelled 220 miles and were now
lying 280 miles east of Assateague Island.
At dawn on the 28th the crew of the Favorite waited to sight the Juno but discovered that she had vanished during the night. The Favorite continued her route northward and dropped anchor in the port of Boston on November 1.
The record of the Juno’s fate and her last known position before she sank were documented in two accounts. When the Favorite reached Boston, Captain Pourland gave his account which was printed in the Boston papers. One was the Columbian Centinal of November 3, 1802. The account of the disaster was repeated in other newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic as the dreadful news spread. The other account was related by Lt. Clemente after he arrived safely with the Favorite. His account gives us the last position of the Favorite within hours of the Juno’s disappearance. His complete account was published by the Spanish historian Caesaro Francisco Duro Duro in 1859. Modern authors like Dave Horner who published The Treasure Galleons in 1971 have used these two sources to narrate this unfortunate disaster.
In 1987, a scallop boat snagged a large bronze bell with Spanish writing on it and a wooden stern post with two bronze gudgeons 40 miles off of Assateague Island. A company out of Norfolk, Virginia, called Quicksilver International, thought that these artifacts may have come from the Juno. Quicksilver organized a treasure hunt and declared in the papers that the Juno could be worth 500 million dollars. In 1988, an admiralty claim was filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the same court that would hear the Sea Hunt case. Stock was sold and the hunt was on.
In 1989, an anchor was dragged up by a fisherman just off the beach at the lower end of Assateague Island. Attached to the anchor was a pewter plate with writing that appeared to say “Jane,” “Juno,” or “Jolle.” Ben Benson of Sea Hunt was made aware of this find and also of Spanish coins being found on the beach that predated 1802. He was totally unaware that Spanish coins could come from any shipwreck as they were legal currency in the U.S until 1857. He researched the last position of the Juno finding that she disappeared nearly 300 miles off of Assateague; he studied what Quicksilver was doing and was convinced as they were that the bell and rudder post must have come from the Juno. He drew a line from the last position of the Juno through the location of the bell discovery to the anchor found in shallow water and the coins found on the beach and concluded that the Juno had come to rest 1500 feet off the Assateague. Benson was not aware of just how many wrecks had occurred in this area and that another ship called the Juno was lost in this area in 1817 and a sloop called the Jarvis or Janis was lost in 1822. For his theory the Juno would have had to stay afloat for days at the same time crossing the north bound Gulf Stream current which would have propelled the ship north, not south as he conjectured.
This map that demonstrates Benson’s theories is found with his report, “Spanish Treasure Ship ‘Juno’ lost in 1802,” written by him in 1997 and on file at the Eastern Shore Public Library, in Accomack, Virginia. Note that he relies on the October 27 position given by Duro.
The following are highlights from entries found in court transcripts and pleadings filed in the Sea Hunt case. For the full docket go here.
March 11, 1998, Federal Court House Norfolk, VA
Judge J. Calvett Clarke heard testimony from Sea Hunt about the claim of discovery filed for two unidentified shipwrecks in the shallow waters adjoining Assateague Island, VA.
Peter Hess for Sea Hunt presented three artifacts that together represented discovery of La Galga and the Juno.
HESS: “we are dealing with two vessels that may or may not be, but we believe are formerly Spanish Frigates… We believe that there is strong evidence that those are the vessels that have been discovered.”
BEN BENSON PRESIDENT OF SEA HUNT: “La Galga is in many pieces most lying 200 feet from shore. The Juno is lying 1500 feet from shore in 20 feet of water.” He stated that they had only brought up three artifacts and had spent a million dollars. The wrecks were located beneath the sand. Benson said he found the wrecks almost two years ago and also testified that he knew of no one else diving on them and that he was the sole locator of the wrecks.
The vessels were subsequently arrested by order of the court. The court also ordered that the Kingdom of Spain be notified as well as the U.S.
May 11, 1998
Richard Cook and Alpha Quest filed an unverified claim to La Galga. His pleading stated that he had discovered La Galga after years of research and that he had shared his research with Ben Benson.
May 13, 1998
The Commonwealth of Virginia filed a claim to both vessels as all abandoned shipwrecks within three miles of the coast are property of the state by virtue of the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 (ASA) and had authorized Sea Hunt to conduct salvage operations within the defined areas of their permits. Virginia argued that La Galga and the Juno were abandoned.
May 18, 1998
The United States intervenes on behalf of Spain.
June 2, 1998
Alpha Quest and Rick Cook file a formal answer to Sea Hunt’s claim. They state that La Galga lies in 20 feet of water about 650 yards south of the Maryland-Virginia line and about 70 yards offshore. He stated in his answer that he had obtained a copyright on his research compilation on the 1750 fleet. Cook also informed the court that the Juno did not lie in the permit area granted by the State of Virginia. Cook also said that he had been researching shipwrecks for more than twenty years. Actually, he was introduced to shipwrecks by Donald Stewart in 1980. Cook stated that he met Benson on or about June 1, 1986. Cook convinced Benson that he had great expertise in locating shipwrecks and that he had located La Galga. Cook stated that he not only loaned Benson his research but took him to the site. Also in the Answer, Cook claimed copyright infringement and that Benson had created a file based on it and submitted it to the Eastern Shore Public Library. Cook demanded $250,000 as recompense for Benson’s “infringement of his copyright, fraud, and bad faith…”
FOR THE RECORD: In August of 1997, Ben Benson did file a detailed account of La Galga at the Eastern Shore Public Library. His report is entitled “The King’s Frigate La Galga & the 1750 Treasure Fleet.” There is a lot of evidence that it was based on Cook’s research. Cook had some material that was concocted by Donald Stewart that had no basis in fact. The only way Benson could have gotten this was from Cook. There was also a page in Benson’s material that had originated from my own research report. He even gave Cook a great deal of credit. “After seven years of archival research Cook now knew exactly what ship he looked for and in what general date. To date, no one has done a better job or a more detailed and thorough search of the archival records than Rick Cook,” “Finally Cook believed he found what was the main portion of the wreck just below the MD-VA line.” Benson included a detailed bibliography of documents he used as sources. Cook was not credited here.
Benson went further in his report to give me credit in this way:
“At the same time Cook was researching the wreck another researcher was searching the same area and had reached a different conclusion. John Amerhein (sic) also did exhaustive research in archives in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Amerhein did extensive magnetometer work in 1982 along the shore and found nothing of import. Then he decided to check out a theory that the beach had since built out over the wreck and now may actually lie on the landward side of the beach in the marsh. In 1983, on the landward side, using a land magnetometer (and with the help of a psychic) [See comment after January 26, 2009], Amerhein located a spot he believed the remains of La Galga lay. Amerhein reported his findings to various museums and the federal government to interest someone in excavating his find but found no interest among these groups.”
COMMENT: What is not said is the most telling of all. He did not mention my research on the boundary line. The reason of course is that this research contradicted Cook who he was relying on. In his mind the federal government’s refusal to verify the site was proof that the La Galga was actually in the ocean. Benson did state: The main unanswered question was “where was the Virginia-Maryland line in 1750.” Sea Hunt asked for help from Mac Rodgers the now retired former head of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s survey department. He was told that the line could be just about anywhere in a three mile area.” Benson made no mention of my report in his bibliography.
July 24, 1998
Alpha Quest resubmitted a Verified Claim for La Galga.
August 21, 1998
Sea Hunt filed a motion to dismiss the claims of Alpha Quest and Rick Cook.
September 15, 1998
In court were counsel for Sea Hunt, the United States Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, and counsel for Alpha Quest and Richard Cook.
From this lengthy transcript we find that:
Cook’s attorney told the court that Benson approached Cook and obtained his research and that they wouldn’t be in court without the research of Richard Cook and his “discovery of La Galga.” [I agree with that proposition]. His attorney also stated that Cook believes he may have found the Juno outside of the areas covered in the admiralty complaint. [I know for a fact that Cook believed the Juno was wrecked at Fenwick Shoals off the Delaware-Maryland line. Donald Stewart wrote a fictional account of the Juno sinking at that shoal. Cook believed everything he said.] The court ultimately dismissed Cook’s claims of fraud and copyright infringement saying that he could pursue those claims in another forum.
The court spent a lot of time trying to establish why the U.S. was there and heard much on the Abandoned Shipwreck Act and the issue of abandonment. Judge Clark was getting impatient with the government lawyers:
“Let me ask you this. Now I ask all of the counsel this. I’m not sure that there is anything in the file that would indicate that everybody agrees that the two ships that the plaintiffs were given salvage permits for are the two vessels Juno and La Galga. Everybody agree that they are?”
Barbara O’Malley for the U.S. and Spain couldn’t answer that question.
THE COURT: “…isn’t it incumbent on the government to go down there and look and see?”
O’MALLEY: “We are barred. I can give you any easy answer. You would have to at least relax your order.” [The court had previously ordered everyone to stay away from the wrecks]
THE COURT: All you have to do is come into court and say, Judge, we are not sure that these are the right ships. How about letting us put a diver down there to find out, and certainly I would agree that you could do that.”
O’MALLEY: That’s an option that has never crossed our minds, Your Honor.”…My first answer to you is if Sea Hunt with its resources has not been able to identify them, I won’t think sending down one U.S. diver is going to do it either.”
THE COURT: But Sea Hunt has never guaranteed that these are the two ships. You are, in effect, trying to guarantee that they are the two ships, and I’m not satisfied that the court is going to give Spain the yea or nay on salvaging these vessels when we don’t really know what they are.”
There was a back and forth between O’Malley and the court over letting Sea Hunt proceed on the issue of verification but it was obvious to the Court that the U.S. intended to hamstring Sea Hunt with more regulatory roadblocks to prevent the verification.
O’MALLEY: “…the issue that ultimately will be for you to decide when it’s determined, if it’s ever determined that these are the vessels.”
THE COURT: “…the burden is upon the United States I would think to establish that we are really talking about Spanish warships. You know the plaintiff doesn’t care. What they want to do is get artifacts and get them up and sell them.”
FREDERICK FISHER FOR VIRGINIA: The claim for Spain is premature because they have not identified what vessels are there. The permits are not limited to Spanish vessels, but they cover that particular area.”
Later in the day Ben Benson took the stand…
PETER HESS FOR SEA HUNT: “Mr. Benson, when did you locate these shipwrecked vessels that have been tentatively identified as the Juno and La Galga?
BENSON: In 1996 during an extensive survey that we did under a permit, a search permit issued by the State of Virginia.
HESS: During the time that you were conducting these survey operations, did you ever speak with and individual by the name of Richard Cook?
BENSON: I spoke with Mr. Cook, as well as a number of other people, who had either worked looking for La Galga or had written about La Galga. There is quite a number of books published by people claiming to have found it as early as ‘70s. Somebody claimed to have found it in North Carolina. Mr. Cook, in a book that he published in a library, claimed to have found it in the ‘80s. Another guy named John Armahein (sic) claimed to have found it also in the ‘80s in a different location. So I tried to contact each one of those people and try to talk with them and see what kind of data they had.”
HESS: How did you find what you believe is the wreck site of La Galga?
BENSON: “Through a 400-hour magnetometer survey that took two months to complete.”
COMMENT: Benson never got in touch with me. I was easy to find. His attorney, Peter Hess, was a friend of mine and knew where I lived. I was in the phone book. But then Benson had already read my research report and didn’t like what it said. He didn’t volunteer to the court that my documented location was beneath the lands of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and outside the jurisdiction of the court. It was obvious that the court didn’t question the location because Cook corroborated Benson and vice-versa. If that truth were known, the U.S. would have had to enter the case on their own behalf. Because the shipwreck was buried on the continent, the U.S. had a colorable claim.
The court would have been required to review the 1943 deed conveying the land today known as the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge that encompasses the wreck. That deed says “It further appearing to the Court that the United States of America, the petitioner herein, has filed in this case in accordance with the terms and provisions of the Acts of Congress approved August 1, 1888 (25 Stat. 357, USC sec 257); February 18, 1929 (45 Stat. 1222) and February 26, 1931 (46 Stat. 1421; 40 U.S.C 288a), a Declaration of Taking signed by the Honorable Oscar L. Chapman, Assistant Secretary of the Interior has been duly authorized and empowered to acquire for the United States of America the lands described in the petition, and that the said Declaration of Taking shows that the said lands, interests and estates therein are to be taken by the United States of America for public use…It is further ADJUDGED, ORDERED and DECREED that the said United States of America, petitioner herein, shall have the right and power to take possession of the lands condemned, and all fixtures, buildings and improvements thereon, or any part thereof, as of this date, and all persons in possession and control of any part or any of the said lands, buildings and improvements thereon, or any part thereof, shall immediately upon said date surrender the same to the United States of America…” Deed Book #168, p 380, Accomack County Court House, Accomack, VA.
HESS: “Have you identified – let me ask you this. Have you done any archival or historical research into these particular Spanish shipwrecks or indeed any of the other wrecks that are within these permit area?
BENSON: We’ve done research spanning over three years. In fact we have an archivist in Spain right now. We have – I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars we have spent, but quite a bit in the research. We did not start off, for instance looking for the Juno.”
COMMENT: Benson used the same researcher that I did in Spain. It looks like she may have overcharged him by a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
THE COURT: “How much have you invested in it and how much would you lose if you had to quit and that sort of thing?
BENSON: Thus far we have invested over a million dollars
At the end, the court suggested that the parties try to work out their differences and notify the court if it appeared that Sea Hunt needed to proceed with verification.
September 17, 1998
Court issues order dismissing most of Alpha Quest’s complaint.
September 23, 1978
Court granted Sea Hunt's motion to strike and dismiss US motion to intervene on its own
September 24, 1998
Court denies the U.S. the right to represent Spain. Spain was given 90 days to obtain counsel and file its own claim.
October 29, 1998
Court issues new order clarifying the September 23 Order.
December 23, 1998
Spain files its own “Verified” claim to La Galga and Juno. The verification was questioned later for lack of a perjury statement. Spain also filed an Answer to Sea Hunt’s Complaint.
On this same day the U.S. files its own Statement of Interest.
On this same day David Beltran Catala, Counselor for Judicial Affairs at the Spanish Embassy files his Affidavit on behalf of the Kingdom of Spain.
Spain contends that by a diplomatic note of May 8, 1998 that Article X of 1902 Treaty of Friendship and General Relations between Spain and the U.S. grants protection of La Galga and the Juno.
Catala says in his statement of undisputed facts that La Galga sank and “five members of her crew perished in the sinking.” This statement is untrue and contradicts Spain’s later claim that the wreck site is a military gravesite. La Galga did not sink. Three Spaniards drowned while trying to get ashore. Some had money tied to them and sank. One of the crew was actually an Englishman illegally held and forced to serve on the ship. He drowned.
Catala submitted a large amount of material on the Juno. The most important were documents about the last days of the Juno and why Spain believed it was lost close to shore. Two documents were submitted related to the fate and last known position of the Juno.
a. From the Commissary General of Maritime Affairs in Havana in 1802, Juan de Aroaz, a report was drafted based on a newspaper account from the City Gazette of Charleston, SC, dated November 13, 1802. This paper contained the account from the Boston paper dated November 2, 1802, the day after the Favorite arrived at Boston. Of relevance is the position stated here on October 24, the date of the rendezvous with Juno and the Favorite. The typesetter at the City Gazette transposed 67 to 76 degrees of longitude. It stated that they were at latitude 34° 44’ and longitude 76° 16’. That position is inland at Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The Boston Columbian Centinal of November 3, 1802, gave the position of latitude 37 and longitude 67. The London Gazette, reporting from the November 2 paper in Boston gave the position as 36° 40’ and longitude 67° 16’. Other papers on the east coast and London recited the same thing except one which was the Georgia Gazette of November 18, 1802 which obviously repeated the account given in the City Gazette. (This position is 500 miles from Assateague Island). We know that the longitude of 67° is the correct position because the Favorite was headed to Boston from Madeira and had to round Cape Cod at longitude 69° 50’. Another transcription error was made by the Commissary General who reported that this happened on October 27, 1802, the day before the loss of the Juno, rather than the actual day of October 24. The paper clearly stated that three days had elapsed from the initial position to the day the Juno sank. Perhaps Aroaz thought that the two vessels merely drifted for three days. The amount of treasure stated by Aroaz was 700,000 although the paper he read from said 100,000 dollars. Aroaz also made the statement at the end of his letter: “I keep a vague hope that, having endured the second storm in a location very close to dry land, as may be deduced from the above-mentioned latitude and longitude, the Frigate might have reached the port of Chesapeake, escaping her total disgrace.” This anecdote would later misdirect a federal court and its litigants to believe that the Juno was probably close to land.
b. The second document was the statement of Lt. Francisco Clemente found at the Archivo General de Marina Alvaro de Bazan. Spain supplied photo copies and translations of this document. The page that contained the Juno’s position on October 27, the noon position taken less than 24 hours from her disappearance, was noted as missing. The information contained here contradicted the erroneous assumptions of Aroaz. Caesaro Fernandez Duro’s Naufragious de la Armada Espanol, that contains the missing information, does exist today and is available in libraries and archives in Spain and the U.S and online. That information was even given on Quicksilver’s website, the other company that claimed they had found the Juno. It was also given by Benson himself in his report filed in August 1997 at the Accomack County Library. Spain submitted this report as a rebuttal to Sea Hunt’s representations. It appears that Spain became aware of this report and the one on La Galga by way of Alpha Quest when they had filed their Answer six months before.
February 5, 1999
Alpha Quest filed their answer to Sea Hunt’s Motion to Dismiss. Cook states: To say that Benson located the La Galga is a transparent fraud on the court as Cook/Alpha Quest are prepared to demonstrate at trial.” He also said that Sea Hunt’s claim of finding the Juno was a “ridiculous assertion.”
February 19, 1999
Sea Hunt’s Rebuttal Memorandum of Law to Claim of Richard Cook and Alpha Quest. Sea Hunt argues that Cook’s permit had expired so he had no basis to complain and his claim of fraud and wrongdoing were no longer legitimate issues before the court.
March 5, 1999
In Court: Counsel for Sea Hunt, Alpha quest and Spain. James Goold for Spain is admitted to the case. The U.S. is granted status as amicus curia. Sea Hunt is objecting to Spain’s pleading in its claim as not being verified under oath.
April 1, 1999
In Court: Present Counsel for Spain, Sea Hunt, Alpha Quest, the United States, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Quicksilver International.
ANTHONY TROY FOR SEA HUNT: “We do not at this time have sufficient evidence to declare that we have found the Juno. What artifacts we have found are not inconsistent with the Juno, but we have nothing that suggests that we can claim the Juno.”
JAMES GOOLD FOR SPAIN: When asked about Quicksilver’s claim that they had found the Juno; “Based on the evidence we have seen, we do not believe their ship is the Juno. It has an anchor chain that did not exist until well after the Juno was lost.”
ALPHA QUEST: George Leach reminded the court that they were there in court because of the successful efforts of Richard Cook, “successful efforts that culminated in the finding of La Galga, which everyone concedes that this vessel, this wreck site, site specific, perhaps 300 yards south of the Virginia-Maryland line and some 70 yards at sea is La Galga.” “Cook “took them to the site and showed him exactly where La Galga was…”
The COURT: “Sea Hunt filed a request for salvage rights on the instructions of your client, didn’t he?”
Leach explained that Cook did not have the funds to pursue salvage but wanted to participate.
Sea Hunt continued their argument to dismiss Spain’s claim because of its defective verification. Goold objected: “The purpose of the verification requirement is to prevent false and fraudulent claims. You have not heard one suggestion of any such thing as to Spain’s claim.”
It was on this day that the fatal mistake was made by all. A stipulation was agreed to that the “Juno and La Galga are located within three miles of shore of the Commonwealth of Virginia in very shallow water.” There never was any evidence that Spanish ships had been discovered. The court had been mislead to believe that a few Spanish coins found proved that Spanish ships were somewhere off the beach of Assateague. La Galga lay under Assateague in a federal reserve. Juno lay at least 200 miles out. Sea Hunt had all the info they needed to avoid making this false assertion. But it appears from the record that David Bederman for Sea Hunt relied on representations from Spain as to the location of the Juno:
“As for the Juno which sank on October 27th, 1802, we believe that Spain’s own documentary evidence indicates that they were on notice of the location of the wreck.
And I am quoting now from a report of the commissary general of the Spanish crown in reference to this incident, that the Juno sank in a location very close to dry land. As may be deduced from the above-mentioned latitude and longitude, the frigate might have reached the port of Chesapeake, escaping her total disgrace. This was annexed to the Catala affidavit.
Spain was on notice as to the location of the Juno wreck. If the Juno is located where Sea Hunt believes it is, it is located very close to shore.”
The Commonwealth of Virginia was presented with this same information. It is not known if they made any independent verification of the historical record. It appears that the state relied on Sea Hunt and Spain, although Virginia never admitted that the Juno had been found.
Spain had the ability to ascertain the truth about Juno’s location and did not. Spain’s archives contained the evidence that would not only clarify the confusion and contradiction of the commissary general but also document that the Juno was not in Virginia waters and could not have been discovered or salvaged.
Judge Clarke raised an important issue. He reminded them that Cook had claimed that he believed that the Juno lay in an area outside of the permitted areas and that Quicksilver had said the same thing.
THE COURT: “Can I assume from both parties here to this case that you all are satisfied that I should rule upon this matter on the agreement of counsel that the vessel is the Juno?
GOOLD: “Yes. We believe that the court can rule, affirm Spain’s ownership of the Juno regardless of which place it happens to be. The legal principles that establish Spain’s ownership do not depend on where it came to rest.”
COMMENT: If no Spanish property was arrested in rem why was Spain allowed to remain in court? Furthermore, Spain continuously argued that Juno’s resting place would be a military gravesite and should not be disturbed. But Spain also argued that the Juno had not been found. So how could Spain argue in good faith that the unidentified Sea Hunt wreck was a military gravesite? Did the stipulation create a military grave site when there wasn’t one? Isn’t that the same as relocating a corpse just for the sake of making your case?
April 27, 1999
The court rendered its Opinion and Order. Juno was awarded to Spain and La Galga to Virginia.
The undisputed facts were drawn primarily from the affidavit of David Beltran Catala. These facts did not include that the vessels had been found. The court said: “La Galga then lay undisturbed for almost 250 years, until the current salvage attempts by Sea Hunt.” For the Juno: “Although Spanish authorities ordered an investigation into the loss of Juno, the location of the wreck was not discovered until recent efforts by Sea Hunt.” Footnote says that Quicksilver had also made the same claim but it had been cleared up by counsel for Spain who “indicated that Spain believed that Sea Hunt, and not Quicksilver, had found the actual Juno.” Spain would contradict this argument later after the award.
May 26, 1999
Now that Spain had won the Juno, David Beltran Catala filed another affidavit. Spain was objecting to paying a salvage award to Sea Hunt. Catala weighed in: “Before any decision as to whether recovery of any remains of Juno may be undertaken, it would be necessary first to determine the location of the vessel.”
“Based on information contained in Sea Hunt filings in this Court and the attached exhibit prepared by Sea Hunt as reports of its activities it is evident that Sea Hunt has provided no credible information identifying the actual site of the Juno.”
“I begin by noting that Sea Hunt has not provided information that was not well known to Spain before Sea Hunt sought to disturb these vessels. I note that in particular that the documentation previously provided to the court concerning the location and history of Juno consists of documents from public archives in Spain.” Catala declared that the last position reported for the Juno was on October 24, 1802, being latitude 36? 44’ and longitude 76? 16’.
He then stated that the northwest winds would have blown the ship away from the coast of America.
Catala attached as Exhibit 2 Benson’s narrative of the loss of the Juno which most importantly documents that the last position given for the Juno was taken on October 27 not October 24, 1802. In his narrative, he credits the New York Morning Chronicle of November 8, 1802 as his source for part of the Juno’s final moments. Benson also disclosed that he relied on the “Spanish Shipwreck historian Fernandez Duro as well as newspaper accounts of Quicksilver.” Spain made no references to these sources in their arguments on the Juno’s estimated position. Benson had even provided a chart with notations on it. That chart was not submitted to the court by Spain, but Benson stated the position in his narrative as latitude 38° and longitude 69.56°. (Duro said 38° 69” 56’). Benson calculated that position to be 302 miles off shore.
Catala made a very good case as to why Sea Hunt had not found the Juno. He states:
Sea Hunt’s own target verification report provided to the Commonwealth of Virginia states that as of September 15, 1998, Sea Hunt had not located the Juno. But then in contradiction to that argument he states the Juno [the site located by Sea Hunt] is a military gravesite.
May 27, 1999
Sea Hunt filed Plaintiff’s Memorandum in Respect to its Claim of Entitlement to a Salvage Award for the Juno. Of interest here, Sea Hunt wanted to be rewarded for the future recovery of “700,000 coins” that Spain’s records suggested. Sea Hunt was referring to the amount misstated by Aroaz. Sea Hunt had an expert value this erroneous cargo at $83 million dollars. Sea Hunt’s own records from the New York Morning Chronicle, which Ben Benson used in his account of the Juno sinking and which had correctly stated the longitude on October 24, said the valuable cargo was “100,000 dollars.”
The U.S. filed a Supplemental Brief on the requested salvage award. Of importance:
“Sea Hunt has not shown that it has successfully undertaken a salvage operation against the Juno. This is because Sea Hunt is still unable to assert with certainty that it has found the remains of Juno and saved any of its contents from loss. Although Sea Hunt has recovered a number of items listed in the attached inventory, it has not identified any of them as associated with Juno”
Spain submitted its own Supplemental Brief and stated that that Sea Hunt had "no success in even locating, much less salvaging, the wreck."
June 15, 1999
Supplemental reply brief on Issue of Salvage. Spain complained that Sea Hunt has asked for a salvage award when they have repeatedly averred that they can’t be certain where the Juno is or if the artifacts recovered were from her. Of great significance here is the attached exhibit to this pleading. It was Benson’s narrative of La Galga retrieved by Spain from the Eastern Shore Public Library. If Spain didn’t know who I was before, they did after reading it. Benson described in detail my claim of discovery of La Galga within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
On this same day, Virginia filed its reply brief on the issue of the salvage award: “Until such time as this court has established a discrete location of the Juno wreckage site, recovery of historic artifacts under the Virginia Marine Resources Commission Permits No. 97-0498 and No. 97-0163 (the permits) should be allowed to continue freely in the areas covered by the Permits.”
Sea Hunt responded on this day as well:
Sea Hunt argued that should the vessels be proven to be non-Spanish vessels the court would have no further jurisdiction over Spanish claims to non-Spanish vessels…Advisory opinions not involving an actual case or controversy are simply beyond the jurisdiction of federal admiralty courts. U.S. Const., Art. III, Section 2
COMMENT: This was the best argument yet put forth by Sea Hunt.
June 25, 1999
The district court denied Sea Hunt a salvage award and ordered that whatever artifacts they had from the Juno to be turned over.
July 20, 1999
I had been following this case in the news since it began. From what I had been reading in the news it appeared to me that Spain was being misled so I wrote a letter to the embassy in Washington. I gave them my report which documented my archival and field research and pinpointed the location of the wreck of La Galga. I also told them that Spanish coins are not proof of a Spanish shipwreck. The statements and documentation contained in this letter should have come as no surprise to Spain. It was only the month before when they submitted Benson’s account of La Galga which described my interest in La Galga. I also told them that the Juno had to be well offshore. The Embassy of Spain never responded to the letter or made any attempt to get in touch with me.
July 23, 1999
Cross appeals of the district court decision were filed by Sea Hunt and Spain.
July 21, 2000
4th Circuit renders its opinion. Both shipwrecks belong to Spain.
October 19, 2000
A petition for a Writ of Certiorari was filed with U.S. Supreme Court.
November 21, 2000
In the District Court arguments continue over the artifacts and Sea Hunt’s refusal to surrender them to Spain. On this date the Commonwealth of Virginia responded to Spain’s motion to terminated Sea Hunt’s appointment as Substitute Custodian.
Of import: “Sea Hunt also has an obligation to the Commonwealth not to turn over to any third party – including Spain – any artifact recovered under a Virginia-issued permit if that artifact came from any source other than one of those two ships…Thus, the fact that Sea Hunt recovered an artifact under a Virginia permit does not mean that the artifact came from either La Galga or Juno.”
“The obligation is not, however, an obligation to turn over to Spain all artifacts recovered from the two salvage areas. The transfer obligation is limited to any artifacts recovered from the two specific ships. If Spain claims that Sea Hunt has failed to abide by this obligation, it should identify the particular artifacts (s) that gives rise to its concern and to prove the origin of such artifacts(s). By asking this court, in effect, to presume the origin of all artifacts and to shift to Sea Hunt the burden of proof, Spain is not acting in keeping with the Court’s previous order or with basic principle governing the burden of proof.” “Spain has never agreed that the recovered artifacts came from their ships.” “An item-by-item inquiry is needed, with Spain bearing the burden of proof as to the origin of any item that it claims.” “All other artifacts recovered by Sea Hunt belong to the Commonwealth.”
Virginia quoting Beltran Catala “Sea Hunt has not located the Juno or otherwise achieved success that could merit a salvage award.”
On this day Sea Hunt filed its Memorandum in support of its Motion for Relief from Judgment FRCP 60(b)(6). Sea Hunt was now arguing that they had not found La Galga and the Juno. “The parties and the Court relied on supposition, conjecture, and speculation when referring to the unidentified vessels as the Juno and La Galga.” “This court cannot and should not adjudicate in rem claims of an intervening claimant as to a vessel which the intervener contends has not been found. This is hornbook principle of admiralty law and plain common sense.” “The judgment of this Court was based upon surmise, conjecture, and a huge assumption that Sea Hunt had, indeed located the remains of the Juno and the La Galga. No evidence of these discoveries was ever solicited or received by this court.” “As indicated, Sea Hunt has requested counsel for Spain to verify which artifacts came from the La Galga and the Juno, so that those artifacts can be turned over to Spain. Spain, through counsel, has refused.”
Sea Hunt and Virginia continued to make arguments to try and undo what had already happened. They dug in their heals and defied the Court’s orders to surrender the artifacts to Spain. The judge lost patience and was wearing down. He wanted the case over. On February 20, 2001, the Supreme Court denied the review.
February 27, 2001
Spain filed its response to Sea Hunt’s Motion to Reconsider Judgment. (See previous entry). There had never been any agreement that the artifacts came from La Galga or the Juno. Now, here comes James Goold for Spain: “Apart from Sea Hunt’s own representations to the Court that it had located the vessels and was recovering artifacts from them, the artifacts include Spanish coins dated 1734, 1740, 1741 and 1799, all of which match the 1750 sinking of La Galga and the 1802 sinking. For all of its evasion and obfuscation, Sea Hunt has never as much as hinted that there is any other Spanish vessel in the area it examined.“
COMMENT: Goold appears to be testifying. He has implied to the court that only Spanish ships carried Spanish coins. The Spanish Embassy was told two years before that this was not the case. All that was needed to verify this was to pick up the phone and call any archaeologist. The inventory of the artifacts submitted by Sea Hunt says that the four coins were found in the same target area which was associated only with the Juno miles from La Galga. No responsive pleading was filed on this issue.
March 1, 2001
Virginia files brief In Support of Sea Hunt’s Motion for Reconsideration of Order of December 6, 2000
Virginia opposed Spain’s motion for immediate turnover of all of the artifacts found by Sea Hunt. In spite of the language found in the 4th Circuit Opinion, Virginia declared:
“No court has ruled that La Galga and the Juno have in fact been found or that their remains lay within the two search areas. So, what Sea Hunt and Spain seem to forget is that no one knows whether the recovered artifacts came from La Galga or Juno, nor does anyone know whether Sea Hunt has located either La Galga or Juno. Without that knowledge, at a minimum, no one knows whether any given artifact belongs to Spain or to Virginia, and no one knows the recovery spots identify wreckage that belongs to Spain or Virginia….Sea Hunt is in the untenable position of possibly having to answer to Virginia for giving away Virginia’s property.”
A formal adjudication of whether the recovered artifacts belong to Spain, and whether Sea Hunt has indeed located La Galga and Juno, is more important than ever. The ownership contest is not between Sea Hunt and Spain, but between Virginia and Spain, as Sea Hunt has no ownership interest in either the artifacts or the vessels, except as contractually provided in the permits. Adjudication is important, because both Sea Hunt and Spain have changed their positions on these issues.”
“Sea Hunt has not unequivocally asserted it has possession, actually or constructively, of La Galga or Juno…Likewise, Spain has never admitted, even now, that Sea Hunt has found La Galga and/or Juno.”
Virginia recalled the affidavit of David Beltran Catala of the Spanish Embassy that was filed on May 26, 1999: In summary, I state that Spain objects to any salvage award concerning Juno on grounds that:… Sea Hunt has not located the Juno or otherwise achieved success that could merit a salvage award…”
“The memoranda of both Sea Hunt and Spain, particularly Spain, contain numerous allegations of contumacious conduct and ad hominem attacks.”
Virginia asked that an item by item inquiry be conducted on the artifacts. The burden of proof would lie with Spain.
COMMENT: It is my opinion that in the beginning of the action there was a unity of interest between Sea Hunt and Virginia. Sea Hunt got the permits and Virginia had a benefactor who would not only map archaeological sites for free but salvage artifacts as well. By the time we get to this stage Virginia realizes that they might have made a “deal with the devil.” Virginia appears to have little confidence in Sea Hunt and they have been harmed by this relationship. The arguments made in this brief came too late. They should have been made two years before, prior to the district court’s decision.
March 2, 2001
In court: Counsel for Spain, Virginia, and Sea Hunt.
The issue came up again about identifying the artifacts.
FREDERICK FISHER FOR VIRGINIA: Referring to the Department of Historic Resources review of the artifacts: “Spanish coins were widely used, you know, in the United States at that time and would be on many ships.”
COMMENT: This was the only time that the Court was told that Spanish coins were not to be considered evidence of a Spanish shipwreck. Besides, the wrecks had already been awarded to Spain. Goold made no comment.
GOOLD: “We have had to go through the burden and expense of that, and I would certainly want to reserve the right to pursue sanctions, Your Honor, arising from what we consider to be a course of – and I’ll say it without emotion – outrageous bad faith.”
THE COURT: Sanctions for what?
GOOLD: For filing briefs with this court that made claims, for example, that there is no evidence that the artifacts came from the Juno and the La Galga, when the president of Sea Hunt testified before Your Honor that he had located the vessels and was recovering artifacts from them.”
COMMENT: You have to recall here that in July the previous year, Spain had received a credible report which gave the history of the boundary line and called into question the location of both La Galga and the Juno. Sea Hunt never submitted any documentation on the boundary line which even Spain new was critical in determining the location of La Galga. Goold had repeatedly declared that the Juno had not been found. It is obvious from his statements here that the information contained in my submission to the Spanish Embassy was not shared with the Court or the other parties. He never tried to get in touch with me.
March 16, 2001
IN COURT: Counsel for Sea Hunt, Commonwealth of Virginia, U.S, Attorney’s Office, Spain. Also present was Dr. Ethel Eaton, archaeologist for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
THE COURT: “And was there anything about the artifacts themselves which would identify them as having come from La Galga or the Juno?
GOOLD: Yes, Your Honor. There are four coins with dates that are very consistent with the Juno and La Galga. There are also two anchors which we are informed by the Spanish Naval authorities, the Naval Museum of Spain, are of the kind that these vessels were equipped with. There are also small materials. For example, a button that would be used by an officer in his tunic.”
COMMENT: It appears that Mr. Goold was testifying here. Without being able to cross examine the so-called Spanish Naval authorities we can only assume that they were merely referring to weight and size of the anchors—facts that would not make them unique to a Spanish ship. Goold was obviously trying to influence the court with the four Spanish coins. All of the coins came from an area attributed to the Juno. None were from the La Galga site. The court must have thought that the pre-1750 coins came from La Galga.
FREDERICK FISHER FOR VIRGINIA: “I would like to put on Dr. Ethel Eaton to explain the importance of the report and why Spain’s representation that these are Spanish artifacts may be premature at this time, if the court is interested in that.”
The Court got sidetracked and never called Dr. Eaton.
THE COURT: The court is faced with a problem that, in reading through this very thick file, that there is really no – been any statement made by Sea Hunt positively this stuff came from Juno or these artifacts came from Juno or La Galga. We believe they are, but that’s as far as they’ve gone, in my opinion.”
On this day the court ordered that the artifacts were to be turned over to Spain.
March 19, 2001
The court ordered that Sea Hunt could continue to salvage in the areas that did not contain the Juno or La Galga.
August 3, 2001
The artifacts were turned over to Spain with no identifications made. The Sea Hunt case was dismissed but the story of La Galga and the Juno was not over.
May 31, 2002
After the conclusion of the Sea Hunt case, an archaeological assessment and overview for the Assateague coastline was performed by Dr. Susan Langley, Underwater Archaeologist for the State of Maryland. The project was sponsored by the National Park Service, Virginia, and Maryland. Her work consisted of a literature search in archives and libraries and remote sensing along the coast. Of primary importance was to locate La Galga and the Juno. She noted that the Department of Historic Resources (DHR) in Richmond had no site form for La Galga even though it was eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. She made no mention of me and La Galga but gave an account from some locals from Chincoteague that La Galga was buried in the refuge in the area I had reported in 1983. Her report did not mention the site form for the Juno but in the records of DHR there is a site form 44AC0402 which mentions the Juno. “Was thought to be the location of the Spanish shipwreck, Juno. There is no evidence that the site is Juno.”
March 13, 2003
The USFWS complied with my freedom of information request for copies of the “Amrhein file.” In it was my report of 1983 that documented the location of La Galga. If the federal government were to argue that they had forgotten about the report during Sea Hunt, that argument was now no longer available.
October 17, 2006
An agreement is signed by the National Park Service and the Kingdom of Spain to display the Sea Hunt artifacts at the new Visitors Center that was soon to be built at the park headquarters at Berlin, Maryland. The Park Service was taking possession since they controlled the waters along Assateague even though the artifacts were found in front of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
The NPS website advertised the event. Artifacts are described as believed to be from La Galga and the Juno BUT with no reservation stated that “Sea Hunt, Inc. found and recovered over 100 objects from La Galga and the Juno through their salvage activities.”
At the signing ceremony:
At the signing Randall J. Biallas, Assistant Associate for Park Cultural Resource Programs, was the keynote speaker. Present were other Park Service officials, Spanish dignitaries and James Goold.
“I would be remiss, however, not to thank the Spanish Government for the important role it played in the litigation over the Juno and La Galga shipwrecks – represented I am told, in stellar fashion by Jim Goold and his team at Covington & Burling.”
“The ruling of the Court of Appeals in the Juno-La Galga case is precedent-setting on an international scale. It marks a watershed in the struggle not just of Spain but of all nations to protect sunken State craft from treasure hunters and looters. In addition, it advances responsible study and commemoration of these important historic sites.”
“The National Park Service is honored to care for these objects on behalf of Spain, and to make the objects available for scientific study and public appreciation.”
April 9, 2007
Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa filed claim to 17 tons of Spanish treasure at the federal courthouse in Tampa. This news went around the world. Jim Goold for Spain made it clear that Spain had won before and they would win again.
In October of 2007, I published The Hidden Galleon which covers the complete history of La Galga and my findings in relation to her location. It also covered the Sea Hunt case, the claim of Odyssey, and the aftermath leading up to the loan agreement for the artifacts. With the publication of the book and the website which had gone up several months before, the government was made aware of the mistakes made. During this time, I had discussions with the refuge manager at Assateague about getting an archaeologist to produce a detailed magnetic survey of the site for evaluation purposes. I made it clear that I was not interested in anything from the wreck. I just wanted to see it excavated and placed in a museum for the benefit of everyone. I was told to give that process some time.
I contracted with a Gray & Pape, an archaeological firm from Richmond, VA to file for a search-only permit with a magnetometer and GPS. The application was in their name. The application to the Fish and Wild Life Service made it clear that we were asking for nothing in return and that they were supervising the job. The supervising archaeologist for USFWS, John Wilson, ignored the request and refused to discuss it with Gray & Pape or myself.
July 14, 2008
By this time I was well aware of the Loan Agreement between Spain and the National Park Service. The new visitors’ center where they were to be displayed was behind schedule. After reading the internet promotions about this and the claims of discovery, I decided to contact the NPS Archaeologist about what I knew. Most of what you read here was posted by then on this website. But I needed to know what the reaction of the NPS would be to the demonstration of facts so I contacted Karen Mudar, consulting archaeologist for NPS::
I believe you will find the information given in the link below is a bit suspect. First off, Spanish coins do not prove the existence of a Spanish shipwreck. I think the American public should be given all of the facts. See here
Furthermore, documented testimony found within the Sea Hunt case acknowledges these wrecks were not found. This has been withheld from the public.
Display of Artifacts at Assateague
Request made to the NPS about the display
I think our common interest in historic preservation and the truth should be reconciled.
Dear Mr. Amrhein,
Thank you for your interest in the NPS Archeology Program. We appreciate your concern for the accuracy of the information on the Archeology Program web pages.
This was unacceptable. I then contacted Dr. Francis McManamon, the Chief Archaeologist for the National Park Service. Instead of asking him to go to my website I included all of the material in the email. He refused to answer.
I had no choice but to file a Freedom of Information Act request on the National Park Service. This was done on July 1, 2009.
September 22, 2008
In the Odyssey case, Spain files “CLAIMANT KINGDOM OF SPAIN’S MOTION TO DISMISS OR FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT” In Spain’s argument, Sea Hunt is cited numerous times. “As the Fourth Circuit held when it upheld Spain’s ownership and refusal of salvage of the Spanish Navy Frigates La Galga and Juno — sunk in 1750 and 1802, respectively — “U.S. domestic law is consistent with the customary international law rule that title to sunken warships may be abandoned only by an express act of abandonment.”
November 17, 2008
Because Spain was repeatedly citing the Sea Hunt case and that Odyssey was now aware of my findings published in The Hidden Galleon, I was asked by them to file an affidavit in their case which outlined the truth about La Galga and the Juno.
January 23, 2009
Spain files its CLAIMANT KINGDOM OF SPAIN’S REPLY TO PLAINTIFF’S OPPOSITION TO MOTION TO DISMISS OR FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT.
Again Spain argues that the Sea Hunt case is a controlling precedent. And in response to my affidavit filed November 17, 2008 by Odyssey in that case Spain declared:
LA GALGA “lies scattered and buried in the sand beneath the water . . . .” 221
F.3d at 647. Odyssey now also argues that Sea Hunt may be disregarded because “extensive research has revealed that it is likely that the sites in question are not the JUNO or LA GALGA.”
(Odyssey Resp. 17.) Nothing in Sea Hunt turned on whether or to what extent either ship was determined to be at the specific sites suspected by the treasure hunter. Spain’s right as owner to protect them from disturbance was upheld even if they were “scattered about the ocean floor.” The accompanying footnote said: “The ‘extensive research’ upon which Odyssey bases this argument (Odyssey Resp., Ex. J (Amrhein Decl.)) consisted of consultation with an individual of ‘proven psychic ability.’‘[U]sing his psychic ability,’ this individual drew a map purportedly showing the location of La Galga. (Ex. D, Goold Reply Decl.¶ 6, Annex 3.) As to JUNO, it allegedly “disappeared in the vicinity of the salvage sites in 1802.” Sea Hunt, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21752, at *8.
COMMENT: It is interesting to note that rather than quote from some archaeological report or historical record, Goold chose to use the language of the published opinion of the district court which by then was documented as historically incorrect. Before the Sea Hunt case was dismissed all of the parties agreed that the wrecks had not been verified as opposed to the stipulation made two years before that the Juno and La Galga lie within three miles of Assateague. Goold had my book, The Hidden Galleon. For those that haven’t read it, it documents thoroughly the boundary line changes and the accretion of sand in the area of the wreck. For the record, a psychic had been involved because before we came to the conclusion on our own through “extensive research” that the wreck was not in the ocean, a psychic who was a client of my partner, Albert Alberi, a lawyer from Virginia Beach, had predicted that the wreck would be found buried beneath the island. He was invited to get involved only after we had reached that all important conclusion. Goold submitted the chapter entitled “The Hidden Galleon” to the court as Exhibit D in the hopes the court would not read the entire book. In a later chapter, “Found, Refound, and Found Again,” I document a lot of what you have already read here but a lot more on the boundary line and other known wrecks in the area. For the record, Mr. Goold failed to refute any historical facts contained in the book. He insinuated that my entire claim was based on what a psychic had told me. He didn’t tell the court that the great nephew of Clarence “Grandpa” Beebe, who was related to a character in the book, Misty of Chincoteague, not only related to me the legend that the horses that run wild on Assateague today came from a Spanish galleon that had been lost in an inlet but pointed to the location where Spanish artifacts had been found which correlated exactly with our location of the wreck site. With this information, my own research, and a powerful magnetometer, we didn’t need a physic. This pleading can be viewed here.
January 28, 2009
I emailed James Goold for the purposes of clarification that since he had just testified that La Galga “lies scattered and buried in the sand beneath the water” and more specifically “scattered about the ocean floor” there shouldn’t be any objection from Spain for survey work on a yet unidentified archaeological site on land within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. He refused to respond. See the email here.
April 4, 2009
Hats off to the Lou Hinds, the Manager of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge who organized the unveiling of the model of La Galga that my partner Bill Bane and I were loaning for display at the visitors’ center at the refuge. The model took two years and thousands of dollars to construct. It was a very nice event. Of note, a representative of the U.S. State Department was there. The ceremony included a trip to the wreck site. Although the Spanish Embassy was invited they chose not to attend.
May 21, 2009
I finally decided it was time to bring the permit issue to a conclusion so I called John Wilson the permitting officer with the USFWS. He said that he was prevented from granting the permit by the Spanish Embassy. He sent me a letter that was dated September 30, 2008, from Jorge Sobredo, the Cultural Counselor at the embassy. This letter documents that a Spanish enclave had been established on Assateague sometime in 2008 in partnership with the USFWS. After Spain took possession of that part of Assateague that contains the shipwreck, Spain did another about face in the federal court hearing the Odyssey Marine Exploration salvage case and testified that La Galga “lies scattered and buried in the sand beneath the water.” Spain was trying to preserve the sanctity of the Sea Hunt case when Odyssey challenged its legality as a precedent.
A copy of the permit application and the Embassy’s response can be reviewed here. By the opening of the letter it appears that the Fish & Wildlife Service had advised the embassy to use the Sunken Military Craft Act that was passed in 2005 as the excuse needed to deny the application. Just to remind you the application was to survey only and not recover any artifacts associated with the shipwreck. I was now having trouble reconciling what was being privately said here and what had been said publicly in the Odyssey case about the location of La Galga.
To put this letter in perspective you need to read the permit application.
“We have given the application careful review and note the following:
The application states that it has been submitted on behalf of John Amrhein, Jr. However, the application contains no information concerning archaeological credentials or qualifications of Mr. Amrhein to be responsible for a project of this nature.
The application includes statements that indicate that it has not given due recognition of the legal proceedings that have definitively recognized Spain’s ownership of the Spanish Navy Frigate La Galga. In the section entitled “Legal Questions as to Ownership” the application states that “no evidence identifying the vessel was presented to the court. Extensive evidence of the identity and history of the vessel was provided and reviewed by the courts. That evidence, and the application of relevant principles of Spanish, U. S. and international law, resulted in a decision that is final and definitive that the Frigate La Galga is property of Spain.
The application also appears to be based on a misunderstanding relevant decision of the court in other respects. That decision, and the underlying principles on which the decision is based, do not limit Spain’s ownership of La Galga to artifacts or vessel remains at one specific location. We also note that the theory advanced in the application as to the location of La Galga is not supported by the historical record, as reviewed and found by the court, but in any case the failure of the application to acknowledge the legal status of La Galga does not indicate that approval is appropriate.
We are therefore unable to conclude that it would be appropriate to approve this application as regards the Spanish Navy Frigate La Galga. We wish to note again our appreciation for the consultation process.”
COMMENT: If my theory is not supported by the historical record than why is Spain concerning itself with an unidentified archaeological site on land in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge? After the shipwrecks were awarded to Spain, Sea Hunt argued: “The judgment of this Court was based upon surmise, conjecture, and a huge assumption that Sea Hunt had, indeed located the remains of the Juno and the La Galga. No evidence of these discoveries was ever solicited or received by this court.” (See November 21, 2000) Spain took no exception to that argument. On March 1, 2001, Virginia said that “No court has ruled that La Galga and the Juno have in fact been found or that their remains lay within the two search areas.” Spain took no exception. But they did take the artifacts.
May 27, 2009
I filed my Freedom of Information request with the National Park Service. On June 22, 2009, Diane Cooke, NPS FOIA Officer, requested clarification. Shortly afterwards I called Dr. Francis McManamon, the Chief Archaeologist for NPS about the request. I expressed my concerns. He said that the NPS was relying solely on the findings by the 4th Circuit that La Galga and Juno had been found.
June 3, 2009
The Magistrate of the District Court in Tampa made his recommendation that Odyssey must turn over the treasure to Spain. In the court’s opinion Sea Hunt was cited as the authority and precedent that the 1902 Treaty of Friendship would prevent salvage of Spanish vessels in U.S. waters. In the related footnote:” Sea Hunt involved two Spanish frigates of the same era as the Mercedes, La Galga and the Juno, both lost off the Virginia coast in 1750 and 1802, respectively.”
This same day, Gray & Pape, the cultural resource management company I had retained to supervise and manage the remote sensing survey on Assateague, wrote to John Wilson, regional archaeologist for the USFWS responding to the letter from the Spanish Embassy dated September 30, 2008:
“We are appreciative of the comments provided in the letter and as the archaeological consultant retained by Mr. John Amrhein, Jr., Gray & Pape wanted to respond to one of the issues raised in the September 2008 letter. The second paragraph of the letter states that the application contains no information concerning the credentials or qualifications of Mr. Amrhein to conduct an archaeological investigation of this nature. In the interest of transparency, we want to make it clear that Mr. Amrhein retained the services of Gray & Pape as his cultural resources consultant for this project over a year ago. In this capacity, Gray & Pape has submitted an ARPA permit application to conduct archaeological survey on Federal land and will be guiding the development and implementation of the research design for this project, conducting any field examinations, and synthesizing the data collected from these investigations into a technical report suitable for review by the Federal government and the Kingdom of Spain as well as public dissemination if it is deemed appropriate by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Mr. Amrhein will only serve as a historical consultant.
In the spirit of the National Preservation Act of 1966, as amended which charges the managers of Federal agencies with the responsibility of identifying the cultural resources located within their boundaries for the purpose of future preservation planning, it is our hope that eventually we all may take the first step together in preserving a resource that has international cultural significance.”
The USFWS never responded to this letter. I also included it in my letter to the Spanish embassy but they refused to respond as well.
July 1, 2009.
Clarification of FOIA document request sent to Diane Cooke, NPS.
September 11, 2009
Friday. Francis McManamon, Chief Archaeologist for the National Park Service, signs transmittal letter for the document request.
September 14, 2009.
Monday. Notice that Diane Cooke, NPS FOIA Officer, has been transferred out of NPS after 28 years to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
September 17, 2009
Thursday. I received the package of requested documents from Karen Mudar. I expected to see some email communication between Mudar and McManamon about the request. There were none. (Apparently Mudar did not forward my email to her to McManamon.) The NPS confirmed that their only basis for displaying the artifacts as Spanish is the 4th Circuit opinion. In separate statements, they say they have no records to confirm that any of the artifacts came from La Galga or the Juno. When asked for any historical research that would substantiate the claims, they provided none. Also disclosed was the Loan Agreement of the artifacts between Spain and NPS. I had to pay $600 because certain federal employees refused to answer a very simple and straightforward question.
September 23, 2009
NPS press release declares Dr. McManamon is retiring.
September 29, 2009
The U.S. Justice Department files a Statement of Interest and Amicus Brief on behalf of Spain in the Odyssey Marine case. Barbara O’Malley, a veteran from the Sea Hunt litigation, was lead attorney. The U.S. invoked the Sea Hunt precedent in the interpretation of the 1902 Treaty of Friendship.
December 28, 2009
The court accepted the magistrate’s recommendation and the case was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The use of the Sea Hunt precedent was solemnized by the district court.
January 15, 2010
OME files appeal
July 19, 2010
OME Case Brief of Appellee Kingdom of Spain
Spain cited the Sea Hunt precedent at least eight times: “The Fourth Circuit’s affirmance in Sea Hunt of the right of Spain to prohibit unauthorized disturbance and salvage of its historic vessels is particularly instructive in this case.”
“Accordingly, the would-be treasure hunter in Sea Hunt was “ordered to ‘deliver to Spain’ any artifacts it had taken from the shipwreck site.”
The order actually said “to deliver to Spain any artifacts salvaged from Juno which are currently in Sea Hunt’s possession.”
Sea Hunt was under no obligation to turn over any artifacts that were not from the Juno. Just thirty days prior to the court issuing this order in Sea Hunt, Spain argued that “Sea Hunt has not even located the Juno, much less salvaged it.”
Spain chose to use the generic term “shipwreck” instead of the specific, “Juno” when communicating to the Odyssey court what had taken place in Sea Hunt. Spain had been put on notice eleven years before that the Juno had not been found and that Spanish coins do not prove a Spanish shipwreck.
QUESTION: Was the Eleventh Circuit under the impression that La Galga and the Juno had in fact been found in the Sea Hunt case?
ANSWER: If they thought or more importantly knew that the ships had not been found then they might have been forced to treat the Sea Hunt precedent as merely an advisory opinion and not available to Spain in the present controversy.
August 2, 2010
U.S. files Statement of Interest on behalf of Spain. The U.S. does not cite the Sea Hunt case but agrees with the district court that the “1902 Treaty of Friendship and General Relations with Spain forecloses Odyssey’s claims under the law of salvage or the law of finds.” The Sea Hunt case was used as authority for this premise by the district court.
October 2, 2010
Grand opening of the Assateague Island Visitor Center. Some of the Sea Hunt artifacts go on display. No one from Spain was present for the event. An anchor was put on display and several coins. The placard says that Spain has loaned the artifacts to the NPS.
The display contains misinformation. The anchor was never associated with La Galga. Two anchors were found fairly close to each other in the supposed Juno wreckage area. On the right it says that Spanish ships would travel by Assateague returning to Spain. This is untrue. Once clearing the Bahamas off north Florida the ships would leave the northbound currents and head east for home.
The profile of La Galga was supplied by me. It was drawn by Chip Bane, one of my partners. Chip died from an accident right after completing this. The NPS removed his signature.
Is the statement “Others have come to dispute this conclusion” enough to counter “On loan from the Kingdom of Spain?” Can Spain legally take possession of artifacts that clearly did not come from Spanish ships? It is my opinion that the display of the artifacts is being offered as proof that the artifacts were Spanish—proof that the court never granted in the Sea Hunt case.
April 12, 2011
Back to the Odyssey Marine case. Kingdom of Spain’s Response to the Motion of Amicus Curiae United States For Leave to Participate in Oral Argument.
Spain reminded the court that the U.S. had appeared as amicus curiae in the Sea Hunt case and participated in oral argument.
September 21, 2011
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its Order and Opinion. It cited the Sea Hunt case. However this court made it clear that because it was an in rem action the res had to be identified so that Spain’s standing and claims could be recognized. This was not done in the Sea Hunt case. Odyssey filed a Petition for Rehearing which was denied on November 11, 2011.
February 2, 2012
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta denied the stay requested by Odyssey to block the return of the treasure. Odyssey argued that: “it is certainly reasonable to assume that should the cargo recovered by Odyssey be transferred to Spain, it will never be returned to the Odyssey or to the United States for proper adjudication of claims.” Spain’s position is that it is not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.
At this writing it appears that Odyssey will take their case to the Supreme Court. I hope they listen.
The Kingdom of Spain has abandoned La Galga and the Juno in favor of two unidentified shipwrecks that they knew were not the actual ships. The souls of four hundred and thirteen soldiers, sailors, and a handful of women and children have been waiting for their watery grave to be discovered. They have watched their homeland abandon them for the sake of political expediency and a legal precedent. They heard the statements in court that their ship had not been found. They saw the proper documentation that would have faithfully recognized their last day on earth, which could and should have been presented to the American arbiter, thus resulting in a ruling by 4th Circuit that would torment their souls through eternity. As for La Galga, Spain has breached the stipulation that they agreed to on April 1, 1999 that La Galga was in the ocean lying within three miles of the beach. Without that stipulation, Spain would have had no standing to even be in the case. Now, they are preventing archaeological investigation of a site on American soil that has great historical significance. Fortunately there are no graves associated with this shipwreck. Spain is quite happy to display the artifacts, property of the Commonwealth of Virginia improperly taken in the Sea Hunt case, and have them displayed in a National Park of the United States as souvenirs of their conquest of Sea Hunt. Spain ignored my letter of July 20, 1999 about the truth related to these vessels. They proceeded anyway and allowed the 4th Circuit to make pronouncements of fact that were clearly untrue as found in the Sea Hunt record. It would be hard to make a better case for Spain’s abandonment of these two ships either constructively or expressly. The Sea Hunt case needs to be retried if they insist on using it in other legal and public forums. It is unconscionable otherwise.
| Copyright John Amrhein, Jr. 2012 |