Sunken Spanish TreasureThe Law of Treasure Trove is one that is commonly known by even the smallest of children: finders keepers, losers weepers! This is the case when the typical rules of abandonment apply as well. For example, someone happens to forget a pair of sunglasses behind at a movie theater. After returning home they remember that they have forgotten their shades behind, but decide that it's not worth the hassle to return and hunt for them. The glasses are thus abandoned, and subject to any discoverer who happens to come along and pick them up as the new owner.

But the situation can become more complicated when it involves treasure found on or in land owned by a government, or it is the remnant of a government's ship or other property. Such is the case with a 17 ton trove of Spanish coins recovered from a Spanish galleon, sunk by British warships during a voyage home from South America in 1804.

The loot was found during the course of an extensive "treasure hunt" by Tampa, Fla.-based Odyssey Marine Exploration in May 2007. The company estimates that it has spent over $2.6 million salvaging, transporting, storing and conserving the treasure, which the Spanish government has so far been successful in proving belongs back in the government's hands.

One of the central issues which has been being litigated in federal courts, deals with whether the ship was considered an agent of the government, as opposed to a private business, at the time it was sunk, and thus to whom the treasure itself belongs. So far, the Spanish government is winning the battle, in fact, the treasure was scheduled to "set sail" to Spain last week, until the Peruvian government intervened, filing an emergency appeal, pending the outcome of its position as a potential stakeholder in the artifacts. Thus, while the Spanish government is the current victor, it is subject to losing its entitlement to the Peruvian government, should it prove victorious in court.