Sunken Spanish Ships before American Courts

In: The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law
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  • 1 Professor of International Law, University of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly
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Decisions by American courts on sunken Spanish ships have followed different approaches. Some have applied the so-called admiralty law and granted ownership rights to the finder. Others have assimilated wrecks to natural resources of the continental shelf, thereby falling under the sovereign rights of the coastal State. Others have found that Spain retains title over Spanish galleons that are to be considered as State-owned ships. Others have declined jurisdiction because of the immunity of Spain before American courts. What all decisions have in common is that they show how inappropriate it would be to apply admiralty law (salvage law and law of finds) to sunken wrecks and their cargo. It would correspond to the triumph of the first-come-first-served principle (or the freedom-of-fishing principle) for the benefit of commercial gain, without any care for the preservation of the heritage and the position of States which have a special link with it.

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