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The Case of the Booty: Florida’s Legal Battle with France

Over the last few hundred years, the coast of Florida has been subject to a huge amount of shipwrecks. This means that it’s almost hard to be excited about the most recent discovery of yet another ship that was found this summer that is currently caught up in possibly one of the most exciting, swashbuckling legal battles we have witnessed.

This particular ship, found in 2016, is worth approximately $150 million. Bits and pieces of the wreck were initially found, each of the twelve cannons found being worth around $1 million. The issue on the table is currently that Florida is being sued for the rights over these artifacts since the fleet of ships was led by the French explorer, Jean Ribault and it has been confirmed that France has ownership over the wreck and all its artifacts, despite its being discovered on the Florida coast by Global Marine Enterprises, a Florida-based marine salvage company.

The argument given by GME was that the ship’s artifacts at least should be considered Spanish rather than French as the artifacts were in fact, according to them, looted by Spanish looters heading for Cuba, although the US Sunken Military Act does claim that any ship found which sailed under the name of another country belongs to the country it was sailed under. However, GME’s argument also implied that there exists historical documents showing that the Spanish took ownership of the ship, thus meaning France had to forfeit their right to the ship.

This claim was dismissed as the ship was determined to be the property of La Trinite, the French ship which was indeed wrecked by a hurricane providing Spain with a clear claim to seize Florida for their empire. France’s claim to the ship was that it was protected by sovereign right, a claim that was accepted by the American judge, Karla Spaulding. GME is planning to file an appeal however, so this may not be the last we hear of the case.

Here’s where the plot thickens, GME is also appealing under the claim that Florida state officials were in fact in cahoots with French officials, helping them take possession of the wreck. GME had obtained underwater-exploration permits but after they reported the wreck to officials they were immediately sued by the French government. GME is now suing Florida for around $110 million on this claim, suggesting that the state formed their own excavation and investigation of the wreck independently of GME. The state is also being accused of putting companies such as GME out of business by taking monopoly over underwater treasures. Although a representative for the defence claims that these claims are false, the area where the ship was found is being closed off for Florida’s ‘whale breeding season.’ Coincidence? I think not…








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Katya Conrad

McGill '20

Katya is a Art History and Philosophy Major at McGill University. She is a proud Libra and an ABBA superfan. She enjoys the great indoors and her dog Tally.
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