Part of a 16-tonne shipwreck treasure

Spanish officials allowed a peek at some of the 16 tonnes of shipwreck treasure worth an estimated $500 million that a U.S. salvage company gave up this year after a five-year ownership dispute.

Only a tiny portion of the haul from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes (Our lady of mercy), a galleon that sank off Portugal’s Atlantic coast near the straits of Gibraltar in 1804, was shown to the media — 12 individual silver coins, a block of encrusted silver coins stuck together after centuries underwater, two gold tobacco boxes and a bronze pulley.

Though previous estimates have put the value at $500 million, officials said they weren’t trying to determine an amount because the haul is part of cultural heritage and can never be sold.

“It’s invaluable”, said an official.

“How would you put a price on the Mona Lisa?” Authorities said it would be transferred from Madrid to the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Cartagena. Displays are expected to start next year. Spain took possession after courts rejected arguments that Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration was entitled to all or most of the treasure.

Officials said the weight of the treasure was not the 17 tonnes reported during the legal fight because that included a tonne of sea water used to help preserve many of the silver coins in storage containers.

The inventory counted 574,553 silver coins and 212 gold coins. The metals were mined and the coins minted in the Andes, from places that are now in Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

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