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Salving treasure from a sunken ship - Finders, keepers?

Finders, keepers? It’s not that simple where maritime property is involved, especially when it is a treasure from a sunken ship. In The S.S.Mantola [2019] (which sunk during World War I) salvors were seeking an award for salvaging 526 silver bars and a silk cloth. They had incurred $3.4m in expenses in the salvage ops and a title to the silver bars would most certainly help. But did it turn out that way?

The three basic questions the court had to look at were - marine peril; were the services provided voluntarily (even if were motivated by monetary gain); and success in part or whole. There was another [crucial] question which had to be answered - did the courts (Dist. Ct. of NY in this case) have jurisdiction?

As for the silk cloth, court answered all four in yes & awarded salvors title to the cloth. Court's jurisdiction had been established after it had issued its arrest of the cloth on 1.5.17 following a request by salvors on 24.4.17.

Coming to the silvers bars, if they were not on the SS Mantola on 1.5.17, then jurisdiction over the bars could NOT be asserted. As per evidence, the silver bars had been removed before 29.4.17. Salvors therefore could not be awarded title to the bars. They still can (and I think they will) pursue relief in another forum (UK?).

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