Treasures of a Spanish galleon, dredged from the coastal waters of Florida through July, 1981, by treasure hunter Mel Fisher, belong to him and not to the state, a federal judge ruled yesterday.
Gold doubloons, silver coins and other ancient booty valued at about $500,000 and recovered from an 18th Century wreck near Fort Pierce are under the jurisdiction of federal maritime laws, U.S. District Court Judge James Lawrence King ruled.
Those laws allow treasure hunters to salvage treasure freely from U.S. coastal waters, King ruled, and they take precedence over conflicting Florida laws claiming ownership of any treasures within three miles of shore. Florida usually has taken a 25 percent share of such relics.
Artifacts recovered between July 23, 1981, and Dec. 31, 1983, will be divided between the salvors and the state, King said. Future finds at the site also may be split with the state, but that will be decided after they are found, he said.
King made permanent a temporary injunction forbidding the state from interfering with salvage operations by Cobb Coin Co. He also ordered the state to pay $18,000 in court costs and said it must pay the coin company's defense fees, estimated at about $118,000.
"Fantabulous," said Fisher, who has also led in the recovery of millions of dollars in treasure from other Spanish ships along Florida's East Coast and in the Florida Keys.