Ships, Shipwrecks, and Salvage

The Sea Hunt Case


Post Judgement Mayhem

On May 27, 1999, briefing began on the issue of salvage of the Juno. Sea Hunt and Virginia argued that Sea Hunt deserved a salvage award for the artifacts recovered to date. The court had already awarded Juno to Spain. In spite of this award, Spain argued that Sea Hunt would not be entitled to such an award because Sea Hunt had not yet found the Juno.1

June 15, 1999. Plaintiffs Rebuttal Memorandum in Respect to its Claim of Entitlement to a Salvage Award for the Juno, p. 7 “If for instance, they are ultimately identified as non-Spanish vessels or vessels other than Juno and La Galga, Spain’s Verified Claims upon which Spain bears the burden of proof, should be denied and dismissed. Advisory Opinions not involving an actual case or controversy are simply beyond the jurisdiction of federal admiralty courts U.S. Const., Art. III, Section 2.”

Virginia’s position was Virginia had no information on the location of the Juno and Sea Hunt should be allowed to continue its operations in the permit areas. “Once a discrete wreckage site has been established, Sea Hunt should be awarded a normal salvage fee for the Juno artifacts recovered in the effort to locate the Juno wreckage site.”2

On June 25, 1999, the District court ruled on the issue of salvage:

JUDGMENT on decision by the Court that Sea Hunt is entitled to no salvage award for salvage services previously conducted on JUNO, and Sea Hunt is DIRECTED to refrain from any further salvage efforts. Sea Hunt is ORDERED to deliver to Spain any artifacts salvaged from JUNO which are currently in Sea Hunt’s possession. Should Sea Hunt inadvertently salvage artifacts from JUNO during the course of other salvage operations in the designated salvage areas, such artifacts will be turned over to Spain as owner of JUNO, and no salvage award will be required.

Sea Hunt was free to proceed with the salvage of La Galga under the salvage permit from Virginia. There is no evidence anything was recovered by Sea Hunt since the inventory of artifacts was filed on December 15, 1998. In 2002, Peter Hess, attorney for Sea Hunt, admitted to me that Sea Hunt had not found La Galga. It is not certain when this new “awareness” came to be. But he did say he believed that Sea Hunt had found the Juno.

On July 21, 1999, I knew an appeal was pending so I wrote to the Spanish Embassy to tell them what I knew. I told them that “the ship is now under land….as to the Juno, I truly believe that Mr. Benson has discovered some vessel other than the Juno.” “The accounts of the Juno which I have read seem to indicate a position well out of sight of land…it has been my experience that many vessels from the Colonial period to the 1820s carried Spanish money.3 This Spanish money is not proof that a Spanish vessel wrecked, although many would like to believe this… I have seen too many times people getting caught up in the excitement of discovery and getting burned in the end. I have more to share with you if you like…” I enclosed a list of shipwrecks known to be lost in the area.

On July 23, 1999, Spain filed their appeal hoping to take La Galga away from the Commonwealth of Virginia. The case was docketed on July 30. That same day Virginia and Sea Hunt filed their cross appeals over the Juno. I never heard back from the Spanish Embassy.

Richard Cook and Alpha Quest also noticed appeals.

On November 23, 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Spain.

The DOJ claimed that La Galga “foundered in the waters off Assateague Island, Virginia. While most members of the crew fought their way to shore and safety, the ship itself went down.” This is simply not true. La Galga ran ashore in shallow water and did not sink. The fact that La Galga remained accessible to the Spanish adds to the argument that Captain Huony had abandoned La Galga without attempting salvage. But the DOJ argued “there was no abandonment, therefore, when the men of the La Galga attempted to salvage her, and a second storm made their efforts futile.” Readily available to the amicus DOJ were the records found in the Maryland Archives about the event. It is documented here that the Spaniards did not attempt salvage, the the ship did not sink and that Captain Huony declared that the “Owner of the Land” owned the wreck.

The DOJ argued that the 1902 Treaty of Friendship afforded Spain immunity from suit. That Treaty was only applicable to shipwrecks in United States waters. Shipwrecks in international waters or shipwrecks buried in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge would not be covered by that Treaty.

The DOJ, while arguing against Sea Hunt, unwittingly argued against Spain since the shipwrecks were not in U.S. waters: “But as Justice Story wrote in The Amiable Isabella, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 1, 71 (1821), “to alter, amend, or add to any treaty, by inserting any clause, whether small or great, important or trivial, would be on our part an usurpation of power, and not an exercise of judicial functions.”

On December 10, 1999, the Commonwealth of Virginia and Sea Hunt filed a Joint Opening Brief 

Ignored by the Court was their joint argument: “In none of the literally dozens of cases involving the disposition of Spanish shipwrecks, litigated in United States courts from 1975 to 1998, did the government *10 of Spain make a claim.1 Indeed, most of these courts concluded, as did the Fifth Circuit in Treasure Salvors, that “[t]he modern day government of Spain has expressed no interest in filing a claim in this litigation as a successor- owner.” 569 F.2d at 336 n.9. This is certainly not surprising since the Spanish government was on official record as having abandoned title to its shipwrecks in United States waters. As the Ambassador of Spain to the United States indicated in correspondence of January 11, 1965, “the Spanish State may not claim title to said treasure” either because Spain had “lost all rights because [it] abandoned any attempt of recovery” or if “the treasure [is] in the territory (including the territorial waters) under the jurisdiction of a state … the laws of [that] state will determine title to the treasure.” J.A. 348.


It was the Department of Justice that encouraged the Kingdom of Spain to get involved in this litigation. 


“There is no dispute that the wrecks believed to be the long-lost frigates were found by Sea Hunt on the submerged lands of the sovereign Commonwealth of Virginia, were granted by Congress to Virginia in the 1987 Abandoned Shipwreck Act (ASA), and since their loss have never been in the actual possession of Spain. Nor can it be denied that Virginia’s lawful permittee, Sea Hunt, is the salvor-in-possession of these wrecks, having expended substantial time, money and resources in identifying and conserving these wrecks. Yet under the guise of national honor, Spain makes a claim to property to which it simply has no right-legal or moral.”


Spain’s lack of rights stems from the fact that the wrecks were not Spanish nor was La Galga and the Juno arrested in rem and brought into court.

Joint Brief: “[I]f Spain’s ownership interest in the wreck sites is to be recognized, it can only be after Sea Hunt has positively identified the wreck sites as unabandoned Spanish shipwrecks. In Treasure Salvors, Inc. v. The Unidentified, etc. Vessel, 549 F. Supp. 919, 924-26 (S.D. Fla. 1981), the District Court, on remand, described the extensive and sustained onsite effort required of the plaintiff finder of an unidentified, widely scattered, shallow water shipwreck (like JUNO) to positively prove that the site was indeed the 1622 Spanish treasure galleon ATOCHA.’ 

“Thus, irrespective of whether this Court finds that Spain has abandoned JUNO and LA GALGA, admiralty law today could not possibly be clearer: Spain cannot block Sea Hunt’s ongoing recovery of the long-lost shipwrecks it has discovered on Virginia’s submerged sovereign land-whether or not these wrecks turn out to actually be JUNO and LA GALGA. 

In a follow up brief on February 14, 2000, Sea Hunt and Virginia stated: “if there is any factual dispute about whether Sea Hunt has identified and located JUNO, this Court should remand the matter to the district court for an evidentiary hearing to further explore the issue.” (emphasis added)

On January 12, 2000, another joint brief was filed by amici, Salvors, Inc.; Cobb Coin Company, Inc.; Enterprise Marine, Inc.; Quicksilver International, Inc.; and Deep Sea Research, Inc. in support of Sea Hunt and the Commonwealth of Virginia: 

Amici curiae are professional companies engaged in the search for and recovery of shipwrecks and their cargo. The district court rulings granting The Kingdom of Spain the right to refuse salvage on an unidentified shipwrecked vessel merely because Spain believes the wreck might be of Spanish origin constitutes a new and ominous development in the already contentious world of historic shipwreck salvage.


“The Kingdom of Spain has not only abandoned its sunken and wrecked vessels of LA GALGA and JUNO, it has no rights to the unidentified wreck until such time as it can prove title to such a wreck. The Commonwealth of Virginia, who has a greater interest in the wrecks within its territorial waters than should Spain, has granted Sea Hunt the right to salvage the

unidentified wrecks. Until the wrecks can be identified, the salvors in possessions must be permitted to continue to salvage the wrecks. The district court erred in not subverting the rights of Virginia and Sea Hunt by permitting the Kingdom of Spain to refuse salvage on a vessel that is not under its control and may not even be of Spanish origin.”

December 30, 1999. Amicus Curiae Brief of the State of North Carolina In Support of Appellee, the Commonwealth of Virginia and Its Permittee, Sea Hunt, Inc. 

The case on appeal is believed to be the first time that Spain has intervened in litigation in the United States to assert ownership of a shipwreck found off American shores or in a State’s territorial waters. Until this litigation, each of the dozens of Spanish shipwrecks whose ownership was decided by the federal courts had been deemed abandoned by Spain. Now, with the support of the United States, Spain claims that it has never abandoned these long-lost sunken vessels and their *3 cargo, and that it alone has the exclusive right to decide if and when its ships may be salvaged.

In short, North Carolina has a significant stake in this litigation, along with Virginia and its other sister states. At issue here is nothing less than the right of the States to manage their own sovereign submerged lands and underwater cultural heritage, free from interference by foreign nations.


North Carolina continued: Section 322 of the Restatement of Foreign Relations (Third) of the United States (1987) provides that: “unless a different intention appears, the provisions of an international agreement do not bind a party in relation to any act or fact that took place, or any situation that ceased to exist, before the date of the entry into force of the agreement with respect to that party.” There is no language in Article X of the 1902 Treaty that states it has or is to have retroactive effect. Nor, for that matter, is there any provision in the rest of the treaty that suggests such an intent. Therefore, the 1902 Treaty cannot be applied retroactively to Spanish vessels shipwrecked on the coasts of Virginia in 1750 and 1802. (Emphasis added)

COMMENT: This is the thrust and legal principles which purportedly gave standing to Spain to intervene in Sea Hunt put forth by the Department of State and the Department of Justice. 

February 14, 2000. Joint brief of Sea Hunt and Virginia

Spain’s exhortations to this Court that Sea Hunt, by recovering and identifying concreted objects from a shipwreck’s debris field, is somehow disturbing a “military gravesite” is nothing more than inflammatory bluster. There is not a shred of evidence to support it, and the district court certainly made no such finding.


“…if Spain’s ownership interest in the wreck sites is to be recognized, it can only be after Sea Hunt has positively identified the wreck sites as unabandoned Spanish shipwrecks.

Should Sea Hunt’s ongoing archaeological recovery effort yield positive identification of the wreck site as JUNO, the Supreme Court has made it absolutely clear that the salvor has the right to complete its recovery operations without interference from Spain. DSR, 118 S.Ct. at 1468. And should this Court rule *56 that JUNO has never been abandoned by Spain, at the completion of its archaeological recovery operations, Sea Hunt will have earned a liberal salvage award for having found, documented, recovered, conserved, studied, and displayed the artifacts from the long-lost frigate-which, but for its own intrepid skill, dogged determination and financial commitment, would still remain lost, unknown and unprotected from the ravages of the sea.”

In a brief full of surprising arguments, Spain asserts that even if Spain ceded LA GALGA to Britain in the 1763 Treaty, it still remains British property. Spain’s Br. 52 n.12. Under this theory, shipwrecks located off Texas still belong to Mexico (or the Republic of Texas), while those off Alaska are owned by Russia. The absurdity of this contention illustrates the obvious point that cessions of territory include transfers of title to shipwrecks located on submerged lands offshore. To its credit, the United States does not join Spain’s outlandish suggestion that Britain remains the owner of all vessels wrecked on colonial submerged lands prior to the American Revolution.

January 20, 2000, Spain filed its final brief.

Sea Hunt’s suggestion that Spain “gave up” on its early attempts to recover LA GALGA and thereby “knowingly abandoned her,” Sea Hunt Br. 3-4, is patently false. “In fact, LA GALGA’s captain struggled to protect the ship’s remains from looters and vandals, but was given no assistance by the local authorities. J.A. 148-50, 152-53.” This is contradicted by the Maryland Archives. Captain Huony surrendered La Galga to the “Owner of the Land” on the third day after the wreck.” No one volunteered this information to the court. All of the Spanish left Assateague after three days and went to Snow Hill, Maryland, and then sailed for Norfolk, Virginia, where they arrived on September 19. Huony wrote to Spain from Norfolk and said that he had had to abandon the idea of salvaging the mahogany still in the hold, because even if it washed ashore from the wreck, “the cost of salvage will exceed the value, irrespective of the difficulty of finding anyone brave enough to risk their lives on such a wild beach without exorbitant compensation.” The Hidden Galleon, p. 322.

Spain, as well as the court, were led to believe that La Galga was in the ocean. That misunderstanding is critical to understanding the applicability of the Treaty of 1763:

“Nothing in the language of Article XX of the 1763 Treaty supports Sea Hunt’s position. First, text and context reveal that Article XX is a land-swap provision, concerned solely with territory and not with other state property such as sunken warships. Second, to the extent that Article XX affects state property at all, it affects only that property located “on the continent, and not property, like LA GALGA, located on the seabed (emphasis added); indeed, Supreme Court precedent confirms that transfers of territory included in 18th century treaties did not affect rights to the seabed or property situated thereon. Third, the final sentence of Article XX actually protects Spanish property interests by guaranteeing the King’s right to all “the effects that may belong to him,” and thus confirms that Spain did not intend to cede LA GALGA to Great Britain.

There is “no qualification” in the language because Sea Hunt has conveniently edited the qualification out of its quotation. As Spain pointed out in its Opening Brief, see Blue Br. 35, Spain did not cede to Great Britain “all that [it] possesse[d]”; rather, it ceded all that it possessed “on the continent” of North America within specified territorial boundaries (emphasis added). This limiting language – “on the *19 continent” – makes clear that insofar as Article XX deals with Spanish state property at all, it concerns only such property that is located on land, and does not reach property, like LA GALGA, that is located offshore.12


As the record will show later in this review, Spain now acknowledges that La Galga is buried on Assateague and not in the ocean. Therefore, by Spain’s own interpretation, the 1763 Treaty constitutes an express abandonment and Spain would have no present lawful interest in La Galga.

At oral argument May 1, 2000.

During oral arguments, Chief Judge J. Harvey Wilkinson wanted to revisit the Department of Justice’s attempt to represent Spain.  He questioned DOJ counsel, Richard A. Olderman, acting as amicus curiae on the side of Spain:4

“You talked the Spanish government into making the claim, is that right?” Wilkerson asked.

Olderman replied that Spain contacted the State Department as soon as it became aware of the salvage attempt.

Judge Wilkerson declared: “You and Spain came into court at the last minute and essentially blindsided them and ambushed them!”

On July 21, 2000, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its Judgment and Opinion.

Chief Judge Wilkinson for the Court:

“This in rem admiralty action concerns the sovereign rights of the Kingdom of Spain to two of its Royal Naval vessels, LA GALGA and JUNO, which were lost off the shores of present-day Virginia in 1750 and 1802 respectively. Pursuant to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of
1987 (ASA), 43 U.S.C. S 2101-06 (1994), Virginia has asserted ownership over the shipwrecks and has issued Sea Hunt permits to conduct salvage operations and recover artifacts from the wrecks. These efforts resulted in the discovery of two wrecks believed to be LA GALGA and JUNO.” (Emphasis added)


“LA GALGA remained undisturbed until the recent salvage efforts by Sea Hunt… Moreover, the shipwreck lies scattered and buried in the sand beneath the water and technology has only recently become available for its salvage.”

“LA GALGA eventually sank off the coast of the Maryland/Virginia border.” (the Court assumed it was still in the ocean)

“The Juno: the location of the wreck was not discovered until Sea Hunt’s recent efforts.”

“It is undisputed that LA GALGA and JUNO are within Virginia’s submerged lands. That, however, is not enough. We must address whether these frigates were abandoned by Spain. If the shipwrecks were abandoned, then Sea Hunt would have control over them in accordance with its state-issued permits.” It is true they were undisputed but they should have been.

“Sea Hunt claims that its efforts have resulted in finding the remains of LA GALGA and JUNO.”


The appeals court was bound to accept the unfounded fact finding in the District Court.

Their purpose was to establish that the court did have in rem admiralty jurisdiction. Unfortunately, it is based on a stipulation made by the parties. The stipulation was made without knowledge, only wishful thinking that the wrecks were in Virginia waters. It is this affirmation that gave the Kingdom of Spain the right to intervene in a legal action over shipwrecks which were clearly not Spanish AND, by actual location, were not the property of the Commonwealth of Virginia. These statements, on the surface, is what separates the court’s judgment and opinion, from validity to being construed as an advisory opinion for the Kingdom of Spain which is prohibited by Article III Section 2 of the United States Constitution. Post judgment testimony, statements, and actions of the parties which the general public never gets to see, bears this out.


Because the District Court found the La Galga and the Juno to be in Virginia waters they would therefore be in U.S. Territorial Waters and the Treaty of 1902 would become applicable. As you have read neither ship was in U.S. waters.

On October 19th, Benson sold Sea Hunt to investors Peter Knollenberg and John Birch.6

That same day, a petition for certiorari filed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was DENIED February 20, 2001.

Sea Hunt recants but it’s too late

On November 21, 2000, months after the 4th Circuit Opinion issued, Sea Hunt filed a Motion to Reconsider the District Court’s Judgement pursuant to FRCP 60(b).

(b) Grounds for Relief from a Final Judgment, Order, or Proceeding. On motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: (6) any other reason that justifies relief.

Sea Hunt had been ordered to surrender the artifacts to Spain they had recovered on June 25, 1999, and was seeking relief from that judgment.

SEA HUNT p. 2-3 “Nowhere in this in rem action did Sea Hunt claim that any of the unidentified shipwrecked vessels were either the Juno or La Galga.

SEA HUNT p. 6 “The fact is that most of the pieces of this ‘puzzle’ are missing. At the conclusion of the hearing, no evidence had been presented to the Court that Sea Hunt had positively identified the shipwrecked vessels as the Juno or La Galga. As shown above, the record is clear that the parties and the court relied on supposition, conjecture, and speculation when referring to the unidentified vessels as the Juno and La Galga in the absence of contrary evidence…the Court granted the request of the Kingdom of Spain for an Advisory Opinion ruling on ‘legal principles’ regardless ‘where it [the Juno] came to rest.’ Spain’s request for such a ruling on ‘legal principles’ serves to further buttress Sea Hunt’s position that even Spain could not affirmatively state that the Juno and La Galga came to rest in the areas covered by the VRMC Permits.”

Sea Hunt was free to proceed with the salvage of La Galga under the salvage permit from Virginia. There is no evidence anything was recovered by Sea Hunt since the inventory of artifacts7 was filed on December 15, 1998. In 2002, Peter Hess, attorney for Sea Hunt, admitted to me that Sea Hunt had not found La Galga. It is not certain when this new “awareness” came to be. But he did say he believed that Sea Hunt had found the Juno.

The fight for the artifacts continues

August 17, 2000, 27 days after the Sea Hunt decision, an agreement between the National Park Service, Virginia’s Department of Historical Resources, and the Maryland Historical Trust was signed for the purpose of locating and inventorying shipwrecks along Assateague Island. According to Carl Zimmerman of the National Park Service, “The fight over La Galga emphasized the need to get on with it.” Dr. Susan Langley, Underwater Archaeologist for the State of Maryland, had been designated Principal Investigator. The results of her survey was published on May 31, 2002.8 She was unable to locate La Galga and in a later report of March 30, 2004, Virginia recorded this on the Juno: “Was thought to be the location of the Spanish shipwreck, Juno. There is no evidence that the site is Juno.”

On February 6, 2001, Spain inspected the artifacts and was unable to establish wether they came from Spanish ships or not.

On February 23, 2001, Spain filed a Response to Sea Hunt’s November Motion to Reconsider in order to retain the artifacts. Spain not only wanted the artifacts but the locations where they were found. Dr. Langley, with the Maryland Historical Trust, was preparing to go find the Spanish wrecks on behalf of the National Park Service and the Commonwealth of Virginia. During the inspection on February 6, Spain noted that there were some “Spanish coins dated 1734, 1740, 1741, and 1799, all of which match the 1750 sinking of La Galga and the 1802 sinking of Juno. For all of its evasion and obfuscation, Sea Hunt has never as much as hinted that there is any other Spanish vessel in the area examined.” Spain asked for sworn inventory of the artifacts and sanctions against Sea Hunt if not promptly obeyed. With this logic, Spain reintroduced the notion that military gravesites were involved, even though there was no evidence that the Spanish ships had been found. Before Spain had even entered the litigation in 1998, they sent a verbal note to the Department of State that “the remains of these vessels be treated as maritime graves.” They wanted this treatment before anything was verified.

The Commonwealth of Virginia weighed in with their Brief in Support of Sea Hunt’s Motion for Reconsideration on March 1, 2001. Virginia was quick to point out that Spain declined to acknowledge that Sea Hunt had in fact found La Galga or Juno but still wanted the artifacts. Virginia held firm on the artifacts declaring that artifacts not from the Spanish ships were property of Virginia. “No court has ruled that La Galga  and Juno have in fact been found or that their remains lay within the two search areas.’ Virginia argued that id Sea Hunt turned over non-Spanish artifacts to Spain then Sea Hunt would have to answer for giving away Virginia’s property.

The 4th Circuit decision did not quell doubts of Sea Hunt’s discovery. The Virginian-Pilot of October 19, 2000, reported that “The ships were never positively identified, but that has not prevented an international fight from erupting over the mud- covered timbers on the ocean floor.” This observation was made when Sea Hunt filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court but the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal on February 20, 2001.9 As a result, the 4th Circuit decision would remain, which according to James Goold, was a “sweeping and historic (in every sense of the word) decision affirming that the ships had not been abandoned and upholding Spain’s rights to its Royal vessels would stand.”10

On April 27, 2001, at Norfolk, Virginia, Spain’s Ambassador, along with two dozen Spanish marines, an honor band, other dignitaries, and James Goold and his wife, boarded the Castilla, a 13,000 ton Spanish Navy helicopter carrier at NATO Base Norfolk and sailed into the Chesapeake Bay. Although they were a hundred miles from the believed sites of La Galga and the Juno, a wreath was tossed into the Bay to commemorate the loss of soldiers and sailors who died. Wine, champagne, and tapas were toasted as the band played.11

But, the dispute over the artifacts had not been settled.

Back in court, March 2, 2001.

FREDERICK FISHER FOR VIRGINIA: Referring to the Department of Historic Resources review of the artifacts: “Spanish coins were widely used, you know, in the United States at that time and would be on many ships.”

COMMENT: This was the only time that the Court was told that Spanish coins were not to be considered evidence of a Spanish shipwreck. Besides, the wrecks had already been awarded to Spain. Goold made no comment.

GOOLD: “We have had to go through the burden and expense of that, and I would certainly want to reserve the right to pursue sanctions, Your Honor, arising from what we consider to be a course of – and I’ll say it without emotion – outrageous bad faith.”

THE COURT: Sanctions for what?

GOOLD: For filing briefs with this court that made claims [Motion for Reconsideration November 17, 2000, Docket #159] for example, that there is no evidence that the artifacts came from the Juno and the La Galga, when the president of Sea Hunt testified before Your Honor that he had located the vessels and was recovering artifacts from them.”⸺ From the initial complaint. Rule 11 FRCP says that if a party can no longer advocate for their previous position they must inform the Court.

March 16, 2001 

IN COURT:  Counsel for Sea Hunt, Commonwealth of Virginia, U.S, Attorney’s Office, Spain. Also present was Dr. Ethel Eaton, archaeologist for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

THE COURT: “And was there anything about the artifacts themselves which would identify them as having come from La Galga or the Juno?

GOOLD: Yes, Your Honor. There are four coins with dates that are very consistent with the Juno and La Galga. There are also two anchors which we are informed by the Spanish Naval authorities, the Naval Museum of Spain, are of the kind that these vessels were equipped with. There are also small materials. For example, a button that would be used by an officer in his tunic.” All of these were found nine miles south of the wreck they thought was La Galga.

FREDERICK FISHER FOR VIRGINIA: “I would like to put on Dr. Ethel Eaton to explain the importance of the report and why Spain’s representation that these are Spanish artifacts may be premature at this time, if the court is interested in that.”

The Court got sidetracked and never called Dr. Eaton.

THE COURT: The court is faced with a problem that, in reading through this very thick file, that there is really no – been any statement made by Sea Hunt positively this stuff came from Juno or these artifacts came from Juno or La Galga. We believe they are, but that’s as far as they’ve gone, in my opinion.”

But the Court had already given the shipwrecks to Spain. If they did not come from these Spanish shipwrecks then why was Spain even there?

On this day the court ordered that the artifacts to be turned over to Spain. On August 3, 2001, the Sea Hunt docket was closed.

The National Park Service continued their searches in the ocean for La Galga and the Juno. Even with being provided coordinates by Spain, the shipwrecks could not be located.12

On October 17, 2006, a loan agreement between the National Park Service and the Kingdom of Spain was signed with much fanfare as government officials from both Spain and the United States convened at the Spanish Embassy in Washington to sign this historic pact. Officials from the National Park Service, Naval Historical Center, U.S. Navy, Smithsonian Institution, NOAA, Department of Justice and the State Department were on hand.

The agreement was for three years terminating on October 16, 2009. As part of the agreement, Spain stated:

“In recognition of the shared cultural heritage of Spain and the Americas, and the shared interest of the Kingdom of Spain and the United States of America  in the preservation of underwater cultural heritage for public benefit, the Ministry of Culture of the Kingdom of Spain and the National Park Service United States of America enter into the attached loan agreement for public display at the Assateague National Seashore of artifacts attributed to the Royal Spanish vessels La Galga and the Juno.”13

There was now a new set of circumstances being presented. On April 9, 2007, Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. of Tampa, Florida, had filed claim in the federal court for the Middle District of Florida, to 17 tons of treasure found off the coast of Portugal. There was no identity attributed to the wreckage so Odyssey dubbed the project the Black Swan. The newspapers were talking about Spain’s previous victory over La Galga and the Juno.14

On May 31, Spain filed claim to the treasure represented by James Gould. Because Spain was citing the Sea Hunt case as precedent in the present case, Odyssey got in touch with me to testify by way of an affidavit about the facts in the Sea Hunt case in November of 2008.15

The artifacts did not go on display until 2010, after publication of The Hidden Galleon in 2007 and the Spanish Embassy telling the USFWS to deny my permit in 2008. The display said that “Spain won legal claim to this and other artifacts recovered from island waters. On loan from the Kingdom of Spain.”

On July 14, 2008, I emailed Karen Mudar, Departmental Consulting Archaeologist for the NPS. I pointed out that Spanish coins do not prove the existence of a Spanish shipwreck. And I told her, “the American public should be given all of the facts. Furthermore, documented testimony found within the Sea Hunt case acknowledges these wrecks were not found. This has been withheld from the public. I think our common interest in historic preservation and the truth should be reconciled.”

She responded to me on July 25, 2008:

Dear Mr. Amrhein:

“Thank you for your interest in the NPS Archeology Program. We appreciate your concern for the accuracy of the information on the Archeology Program web pages.”


Karen Mudar

On August 23, I emailed Dr. Francis MacManamon, Chief Archaeologist for the National Park Service, hoping to get the answer not provided by Karen Mudar. But unfortunately, I got no response from Dr. MacManamon. Prompted by Dr. MacManamon’s avoidance, I filed a FOIA request on May 27, 2009. I requested an inventory of all artifacts allegedly from La Galga and Juno and an inventory of all artifacts recovered but deemed not from La Galga and the Juno.

In late June, I called Dr. MacManamon and complained about the proposed display of the artifacts. He stated the NPS was merely relying on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Sea Hunt opinion. No surprise with that because Spain was relying on it as well.

On September 14, 2009, there was a notice that Diane Cooke, the NPS FOIA Officer who was handling my case, had been transferred out of NPS after twenty-eight years to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Three days later, on September 17, 2009, I received the NPS FOIA response. The NPS stated none of the artifacts loaned by Spain had been confirmed as coming from or not coming from La Galga or the Juno. They had no idea what they had.

The following week on September 23, 2009, an NPS press release declared that Dr. Francis McManamon, the NPS Chief Archaeologist, would be retiring.

With publication of The Hidden Galleon in October of 2007, I hoped that the government would contact me to help them locate La Galga within the Refuge. I forwarded copies of the book to the Regional Office. They did not respond. I informed the Refuge manager of my intent to get a permit from the USFWS for my archaeologists to do a full magnetic survey. I was told then that this situation was very political and it would be a long time before I saw any permit.16

On February 19, 2008, a permit application was filed pursuant to the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA). The request was for magnetometer surveys only, with no request for anomaly verification. No digging, no ground disturbance. There was no acknowledgement of the application made by the USFWS.

Odyssey had copies of The Hidden Galleon. Spain was citing Sea Hunt as legal precedent to defeat Odyssey’s claim to the treasure in its Motion to Dismiss of September 19, 2007. Spain put forth a compelling argument for dismissal and relied on their experience in Sea Hunt:

“Odyssey’s in Rem Claims Are Subject to Dismissal Because They Once Again Fail to Comply with Supplemental Rules C and E. The requirements of the Supplemental Rules are explicit: in order for a plaintiff to bring a valid in rem claim in admiralty against a defendant property, “the complaint must… describe with reasonable particularity the property that is the subject of the action.” Supplemental Rule C(2)(b) (emphasis added). More specifically, the complaint must “state the circumstances from which the claim arises with such particularity that the defendant or claimant will be able, without moving for a more definite statement, to commence an investigation and to frame a responsive pleading.” Supplemental Rule E(2)(a). This heightened pleading requirement is “more stringent than [] that of the Federal Rules.” United States v. $38,000.00 in United States Currency, 816 F.2d 1538, 1547 fu.20 (11th Cir. 1987). The purpose of this heightened pleading standard is to “guard against the improper use of the admiralty arrest and seizure powers,” United States v. Mondragon, 313 F.2d 862, 864-65 (4th Cir. 2002), by, for example, keeping the owner or others with potential interests in the property in the dark about the property subject to the claim.”

“The need for strict compliance with the Supplemental Rules’ pleading requirements is obvious and compelling as a matter of fundamental fairness and due process. The plaintiff in an in rem case seeks to use the judicial process to obtain rights to the property of another. Every step required by the rules must be scrupulously followed to make sure that potential claimants to rights in that property may determine whether it is theirs and to protect their interests. Failure to comply with the disclosure requirements of Supplemental Rules C and E warrants dismissal not only for failure to state a valid claim, but also as a matter of constitutional due process. See Great Lakes, 2006 WL 3370878, at *5. Moreover, full compliance with Rules C and E is especially important in a “treasure salvage case” because allowing the plaintiff to proceed while the property has not been identified “could encourage potential salvors to intentionally remain ignorant of the ownership of a wrecked vessel in order to maintain salvage rights. (Emphasis sadded) That is certainly not in harmony with the purposes of salvage law.” Sea Hunt, Inc. v. Unidentified Shipwrecked Vessel or Vessels, No. 98-281, 1999 U.S. Dist Lexis 21752, at *12 (E.D. Va. June 25,1999), affd, Sea Hunt, Inc. v. Unidentified Shipwrecked Vessel or Vessels, 221 F.3d 634, 638 (4th Cir. 2000). This is precisely what Odyssey has done here.”

In Sea Hunt, Spain had filed its own in rem claim to the Juno and La Galga on December. Their justification was Sea Hunt’s “information and belief;” the claim of Alpha Quest for the same location which a conman led them to, and the affidavit of David Beltran Catala of the Spanish Embassy.

Odyssey asked me to submit an affidavit for the Odyssey court in Tampa. In it, I swore:

  1. Based on the last reported position of the Juno she sank about 280 miles off the coast. “The Juno was certainly not the vessel arrested by Sea Hunt in this case.”
  2. That the surveys sponsored by the National Park Service and conducted by Dr. Susan Langley in 2002 failed to located either La Galga or the Juno in the areas claimed by Sea Hunt. The report is on file with the Division of Historical Resources in Richmond, Virginia.
  3. Anthony Troy for Sea Hunt stated “The record is clear that the Court relied supposition, conjecture, and speculation when referring to the unidentified vessels as the Juno or La Galga.”
  4. The Court was not told that Spanish coins were considered legal tender in the U.S. up until 1857 and that any shipwreck predating this period could contain Spanish or Spanish colonial coins. This is common knowledge in the archaeological field.
  5. For these reasons it is prudent for any salvor to make a thorough examination of material facts before prematurely announcing the vessel based on optimism and speculation. In my opinion based on the inaccuracies of the Sea Hunt case it is wise to be skeptical of accepting such conclusions and converting them to findings of fact without appropriate archaeological or scientific proof.

Goold responded to Odyssey’s response to Spain’s Motion to Dismiss and my affidavit on January 26, 2009.17 He took an exception to my sworn testimony. In his defense for La Galga, he implied that my “extensive research” was based on findings of a “psychic.” Goold declared “Nothing in Sea Hunt turned on whether or to what extent either ship was determined to be at the specific sites suspected (emphasis added) by the treasure hunter.18 He was denying in rem jurisdiction was present with that statement and contradicting himself in his motion to dismiss Odyssey of October 19, 2007. He called upon the errors made in the District Court’s opinion to defend against my attack on Sea Hunt:La Galga lies scattered and buried in sand beneath the water.” For the Juno, she “allegedly disappeared in the vicinity of the salvage sites in 1802.” Circular logic? And he chose not inform the court that I had applied for an ARPA permit to verify La Galga’s location on Assateague and that his present client was blocking that permit with the help of the federal government.

Goold admitted to reading The Hidden Galleon which contained the federal survey of 1943 and the boundary documentation. It also proved that the beach had changed and built out and disproved the 4th Circuit assumption that “La Galga lies scattered and buried in sand beneath the water.” In spite of this irrefutable information, he chose to ignore it, just like Sea Hunt did, and then use the obvious errors in the 4th Circuit Court opinion to persuade the Florida District Court.

In May of 2009, I contacted Mr. John Wilson, the Historic Preservation Officer in charge of the ARPA permit application. He informed me of the existence of a letter from the Spanish Embassy dated September 28, 2008, which denied my permit. The letter appeared to have been solicited by the USFWS.

The letter stated in part:

“The application includes statements that indicate that it has not shown due recognition of the legal proceedings [Sea Hunt] that have definitively recognized Spain’s ownership of the Spanish Royal Navy Frigate La Galga…We also note that the theory advance in the application as to the location of La Galga is not supported by the historical record, as reviewed and found by the court, but in any case the failure of the application to acknowledge the legal status of La Galga does not indicate that approval is appropriate.”19

Spain was advocating for the ocean location for La Galga at the same time blocking verification activities on land.

The Embassy had taken exception to what I said in the permit application:

“John Amrhein has put forth that the remains of La Galga are buried and contained in the lands of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, owned by the federal government.”

“In 2000, The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals erroneously awarded La Galga to Spain. No evidence identifying this vessel was presented to the court. This court was an admiralty court and could only concern itself with issues in navigable waters. The ship awarded to Spain [Sunbeam] in that litigation lays in the ocean a mile and a half from the site suggested by Amrhein.

The details of this are described in The Hidden Galleon. Spain would be barred from claiming ownership of La Galga in a different location under the legal principle of res adjudicata. It is doubtful that Spain would object to a government supervised identification, evaluation, and hopefully, excavation and display of one of their former warships that has become part of our national heritage.”

Even though the record was clear that neither Sea Hunt nor the National Park Service surveys could locate La Galga, it appeared that Spain did not want the shipwreck to turn up on the Refuge.

At the Assateague Island National Seashore, the artifacts did not go on display until 2010, after publication of The Hidden Galleon in 2007 and the Spanish Embassy was telling the USFWS to deny my permit in 2008.

On February 27, 2012, following Spain’s victory in Court over Odyssey Marine, the seventeen tons of treasure were flown back to Spain escorted by James Goold. He was later knighted for his success.20

In 2014, after six years of obfuscation, the USFWS contacted me and said that they would grant a Special Use Permit allowing my archaeologists to conduct magnetic surveys with the understanding that there would be no digging and that I was not allowed to go outside the permit area. There was no notice of any objection from the Kingdom of Spain. I suspected my permit area might already have been surveyed sometime in the last six years.


From 2014 to 2018, three days of survey were performed. The results of these surveys were:

  1. La Galga was not located.
  2. A magnetic debris trail and a sand mound with a magnetic anomaly were located.
  3. The debris trail pointed to the north outside the permit limits as the likely location for the wreck. La Galga had broken up in a northeast storm scattering wreckage southward along the beach.
  4. The original premise that latitude 38 degrees was the 1750 boundary was proven wrong.
  5. By default, the 1687 boundary would be the 1750 boundary and the 1840 boundary would be the line that originally placed La Galga in Virginia. The wreck would lie between these two lines 250 yards apart.21
  6. There was an inlet in this location centuries ago. See Amrhein, 356

Our last report was made on July 13, 2018, to Ms. Amy Wood, the Regional Historic Preservation Officer since the Refuge was without an active manager. On February 6, 2019, a renewed application for a Special Use Permit was made with the USFWS. The new manager was Ms. Nancy Finley who started several months before. The application was denied pending my getting permission from Spain and acknowledging that Spain owned the wreck. Once again, the USFWS had reached out to Spain (Spain’s Attorney, James Gould) for advice and Spain’s preference.

On February 13, Nancy Finley emailed James Goold to alert him of my permit application. Apparently she was already brought up to speed in a prior meeting with Goold and others in October last. On February 14, 2019, Goold forwarded to Nancy Finley a Federal Register Special Notice 4514 dated February 5, 2004, which asserted Spain’s interests. This  document had been preceded by the federal governments Statement on United States Policy for the Protection of Sunken Warships. This document declared:

“The United States will use its authority to protect and preserve sunken State Craft of the United States and other nations, whether located in the waters of the United States, a foreign nation, or international waters…International Law encourages nations to preserve objects of maritime heritage wherever located for the benefit of the public.” This pronouncement was the direct result of the Sea Hunt litigation. This pronouncement only applied to “waters” not lands.

On December 19, 2002, the Spanish Embassy made this declaration in their Note 128:

“In accordance with Spanish and international law, Spain has not abandoned its ownership or other interests with respect to such vessels and/or its contents, except by specific action pertaining to particular vessels or property taken by Royal Decree or Act of Parliament in accordance with Spanish law.”

The “Royal Decree” happened in 1763 when La Galga was signed over to Great Britain.

Through FOIA, I learned more. During a phone call of February 13, 2019, between James Goold and Nancy Finley, Refuge Manager, Goold told her, “Spain has no basis to approve his [Amrhein’s] activities or authorize any ground disturbance. [The] location is contrary to what we know and what [the] Court decided.” So why was Spain even involved in proposed land-based activities if Spain’s position was that La Galga is in the ocean? Goold continued. “Any activity [or] disturbance aimed at claims or remains of La Galga are not authorized.” He also said, “Spain subscribes to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) which requires a research plan and an archaeologist.” I had clearly demonstrated that nationally recognized archaeologists were the principal investigators. Apparently Goold and USFWS were afraid of this. It should be pointed out that the National Historic Preservation Act and other historic preservation laws require that cultural assets be verified and inventoried regardless of foreign objections.

On April 13, 2019, I wrote to Nancy Finley:

The Abandoned Shipwreck Act does not give nor imply rights to Spain for La Galga if it is buried in the Refuge. In my real estate practice, I see a similar situation. When a house is sold, all fixtures convey with real property. A chandelier is a fixture. In this instance, after several owners of the real estate have come and gone, Spain wants the chandelier back. They are not entitled to it because it was not specifically provided for in the sales contract. In the Treaty of 1763 (the sales contract), there was no provision made for Spain to remove fixtures from the property then or centuries later. They were only entitled to take “artillery or other things” (moveable personal property) if they chose to do so.

You cited the Sea Hunt decision. The district court noted that: “No party, in this case, has argued or otherwise implied that the wrecks of JUNO and LA GALGA are not ’embedded in the submerged lands of Virginia.” The 4th Circuit declared that “This [is an] in rem admiralty action” and that “It is undisputed that LA GALGA and JUNO are within Virginia’s submerged lands.” That statement was based on a stipulation that Spain agreed to. The Court would not have entertained this stipulation if the Court had reason to believe that La Galga was not in the ocean and buried beneath federal property. The federal government, who was present as amicus curiae representing the interests of Spain, made no objections to this stipulation in spite of the documentation it possessed to the contrary. These statements confirmed the admiralty jurisdiction of the Court. Without valid jurisdiction, the proceedings would be void.

If Spain contends now that it didn’t turn over La Galga in 1763, then I would say that after 257 years they want to rewrite the Treaty to facilitate keeping La Galga off of the National Register.

What cannot be denied in Sea Hunt is that the Court was led to believe that La Galga was in the ocean. Any interpretation of abandonment has to be made in that light. It is jurisdictional to its core. The federal government stood on the sidelines and allowed the Court to be misled.

In my response to Nancy Finley’s next denial on May 29, 2019:

La Galga’s eligibility and nomination to the Register is not impeded by any conflict in the determination of ownership. According to Section 110(a) 2(A) of the NHPA, cultural properties need only be under the “jurisdiction and control” of the related agency. As you have confirmed to me, the Abandoned Shipwreck Act vests title to the site to the USFWS. The SMCA (Sunken Military Craft Act) is also clear in this: “Ownership of sunken military craft does not afford foreign states ownership of the lands upon which they sank, whether they are federal, state, or private in nature.” Given the intent of U.S. laws, can Spain block La Galga’s path to the National Register?

I respectfully request answers to my questions based on law and fact. In addition, I asked you before, who gave you the copy of Notice 4514 and “Is Mr. Goold advising you or someone in your agency on how to handle my SUP application?”

I filed my final Special Use Permit Application on February 3, 2020 and pointed out exactly where the mound is that contains the wreck:

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, part of the judicial arm of the United States government, recognized that the Treaty of Friendship of 1763 between Spain and Great Britain gave to Great Britain everything that was on the continent of North America. The Court ruled that Spain did not relinquish sunken property in the ocean, and Spain happily accepted this ruling. This interpretation of the Treaty was validated by a Diplomatic Note from Great Britain during the Sea Hunt litigation and can be found in the 4th Circuit Opinion:

[T]he intention behind Article XX was to transfer sovereignty over the territories mentioned in that Article, and not to deal with, or otherwise affect, the quite separate issue of the ownership of shipwrecks on the waters adjacent [emphasis added] to these or other territories in North America.”

So, I questioned her demand again to comply with the State Department’s Public Notice:

You must be referring to your demand for me to get a permission slip from Spain to enter federal property to search for a Spanish shipwreck which Spain signed over to Great Britain in 1763 while still maintaining publicly today that it lays in the Atlantic Ocean.

I believe your decision to deny my permit request because Spain is telling you to. May I suggest that the Secretary of the Interior explain to Congress why Spain has the right to interfere in your compliance with the Wilderness Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and numerous other preservation laws? Perhaps a formal legal pronouncement from the Secretary of the Interior would clear this up. And if the Secretary declares that a shipwreck buried within the Refuge is the rightful property of Spain, he should take the next step and nominate the La Galga to the National Register. I would think that the average American who expects the experience of solitude in this proposed Wilderness would find it revolting that the USFWS is allowing a foreign country to rope off an area of this Wilderness without telling us where the ropes are and why they are there.

The U. S. Department of Interior acquired Assateague Island and shipwrecks buried within it in 1943. Title to Assateague and all immovable property buried within was confirmed in 1943 to the U.S. government. “A Declaration of Taking signed by the Honorable Oscar L. Chapman, Assistant Secretary of the Interior has been duly authorized and empowered to acquire for the United States of America the lands described in the petition, and that the said Declaration of Taking shows that the said lands, interests and estates therein are to be taken by the United States of America for public use…It is further ADJUDGED, ORDERED and DECREED that the said United States of America, petitioner herein, shall have the right and power to take possession of the lands condemned, and all fixtures, buildings and improvements thereon, or any part thereof, as of this date, and all persons in possession and control of any part or any of the said lands, buildings and improvements thereon, or any part thereof, shall immediately upon said date surrender the same to the United States of America….” Deed Book #168, p. 380, Accomack County Court House, Accomack, VA.

Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

No appropriation of public lands may be made for any purpose except by authority of Congress.

It is clear that Ms. Finley, speaking for the Secretary of the Interior, has abandoned control of federal lands without permission of, or notice to, Congress.

In 1976, Congress passed the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) which inferred that the U.S. ownership of La Galga could not be challenged by Spain: §1605(a)(4): “A foreign state shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of courts of the United States or of the States in any case in which rights in property in the United States acquired by succession or gift or rights in immovable property situated in the United States are in issue.”

Unbeknown to the federal government, James Goold published in 2001 an analysis of the Sea Hunt case that supports my own interpretation of the applicability of the Treaty of 1763 with` La Galga’s location buried in federal land. In A Question Now Answered: Who Owns Sunken Spanish Shipwrecks? he stated that warships and other government vessels are sovereign property of their nation and are not abandoned except by official government act. The Treaty of 1763 can only be characterized as an official government act. In his words:

“In the Treaty, Spain ceded to Great Britain all Spanish territory “on the continent” of North America east of the Mississippi in exchange for the returning to Spain of Cuba, which Britain invaded in 1762. On learning of the importance of the 1763 Treaty in the case, the British Government issued a Diplomatic Note agreeing with Spain that the Treaty had not affected the status of shipwrecks and applied only to land, not to offshore areas…

The 1763 Treaty also contained a significant provision concerning moveable Royal property, as opposed to land. A little known provision expressly reserved to the King of Spain “the power to cause all the effects that may belong to him to be brought away [from North America] whether it be artillery or other things.” In other words, Spain retained its rights to all Royal “effects” (i.e., movable property) located in North America… La Galga is now a fixture attached to the land. It is now real estate belongong to the federal government.

We have made it clear that Spain’s purpose is not to prevent study and recovery by appropriate institutions of the cultural heritage represented by its sovereign vessels. Rather, Spain seeks to establish a framework in which cooperative programs concerning Spanish shipwrecks can be conducted for the benefit of the public. “

This was the same reasoning he provided the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, Mr. Goold did a 180 degree turn when he found out all evidence pointed to La Galga being buried within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

After the Treaty of 1763, Spain removed the bronze cannon from the fort at St. Augustine. They made no attempt to recover cannon from La Galga. They were already salvaged by the locals at Assateague in 1750. Besides, the shipwreck was buried in sand.

It appears from the record in this case that the federal government realized that they made a mistake in getting Spain involved in the Sea Hunt litigation. In 2007, The Hidden Galleon reminded them that had they fulfilled their obligations in 1984 under the National Historical Preservation Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, there would not have been a Sea Hunt case. However, there was no public admission that perhaps they merely “forgot” about my previous work recorded in NOAA’s AWOIS database.

Reading between the lines, the evidence suggests that the federal government made assurances to Spain that this matter would disappear eventually by stonewalling my efforts to verify that La Galga was buried on the Refuge. The federal government ignored every historic preservation law that relates to their responsibilities for historic preservation.

One blatant example is the National Wildlife System Improvement Act of 1997. (NWSIA). This law mandates that each refuge prepare a management plan every fifteen years. The plan is to address cultural resources among other things, including preparing an inventory of cultural sites. The law says that the Refuges have to allow public comment in preparation of the plan. In their final published Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) in 2016 contemplated by the NWSIA they failed to mention anything about ongoing archaeological investigations. They knew what was contained in The Hidden Galleon and they knew that the National Park Service failed to locate La Galga in the ocean.

On February 17, 2012, Ms. Wendi Weber, the Northeast Regional Director, testified before Congress: “In addition, the CCP is being developed through an open and transparent public process that provides extensive opportunity for input from the local community and the American public.” No mention was made of the La Galga and no mention of the horses.22

There were two drafts of the CCP: 2013 and 2014. Both intentionally left out any reference to La Galga and our archaeological investigations. Even after we reported magnetic anomalies in 2015 at the predicted location, they were left out of the final report. What was now included were numerous references to La Galga as being in the ocean. This report was authored by Dr. Susan Langley, Principle Investigator from the Maryland Historical Trust. This report was a result of her research and field work and was published in 2002. This report was updated in May of 2009 and mentioned The Hidden Galleon but did not mention my investigations of 1983 and that this research demonstrated that La Galga is buried under the Refuge. She did not mention the model of La Galga we loaned for display at the Visitors Center at the Refuge on April 9, 2009. A significant cultural event.

Narrative included in the final Comprehensive Conservation Plan:

Page 3-85. “The most famous vessel loss of the 18th century is the La Galga, a Spanish frigate that ran ashore near the Maryland line in 1750 with a loss of only three to five men. Although her survivors remained unmolested, the dismasted frigate was quickly looted of its cargo of mahogany planks (Langley 2002). The ship was then partially cut up by local residents from both Virginia and Maryland, and then broke apart in another storm soon afterward (Langley 2002). Despite that documentary record, La Galga has been the object of several search and salvage attempts during the last half century, the most recent involving a lengthy case that resulted in a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling awarding title of the vessel to the Spanish government (Langley 2002). Comparable to the situation of any U.S. Navy vessel that sank with loss of life while on duty, the government of Spain asserts legal title to La Galga and considers her a naval grave site. Therefore, under the Sunken Military Craft Act, prior Spanish permission would be required for any further search or salvage attempt.”

NOTE: This is the narrative they wanted the public to believe. This was written in 2015 and used very outdated information from 200223 to avoid disclosure of our investigations in 2014-15. But, it must be pointed out that in Dr. Langley’s report, that she disclosed the possibility that La Galga was buried on the refuge. Her 2002 report was revised in 2009. It was almost identical to the 2002 except she acknowledged the existence of The Hidden Galleon. The USFWS chose not to reference the 2009 Langley Report or the findings published in The Hidden Galleon:

“Another consideration, is a possible wreck near the north end of Old Fields Pond on USFWS administered lands…Mr. Reed insists that this is the genuine Galga , which is also referred to as La Gagla or Grevhound, and all are believed to be different vessels by local residents . He believes that Sea Hunt, Inc. is looking at a different vessel.”

This area was included in our original ARPA application of 2008 and in the Special Use Permits of 2014 and 2015. For some reason this was omitted from public disclosure in the CCP.

The final CCP included this language as to the mandate of the USFWS to disclose cultural resources on Assateague, Page P-52:

“The USFWS is legally mandated to inventory, assess, and protect cultural resources located on those lands that the agency owns, manages, or controls. USFWS cultural resource policy is delineated in 614 FW 1-5 and 126 FW 1-3.” USFWS policy includes “assessing each property’s eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.”

When the National Park Service initiated its search for La Galga in 2000, it was hoped that La Galga could be found and then nominated to the National Register.

On April 9, 2020, Nancy Finley responded to my email of March 30 where I asked her again why I needed permission from Spain to do a non-disturbance survey remote sensing survey on land:24

In addition, the Abandoned Shipwreck Act (Pub. L. 100-298; 43 U.S.C. §§ 2101-2106) vests title to any abandoned shipwreck in or on the public lands of the United States in the United States Government. 43 U.S.C. § 2105(d) [emphasis supplied]). However, a Federal Court of competent jurisdiction has already held, for purposes of the Act, that the Kingdom of Spain has not abandoned [emphasis added] La Galga, and the vessel remains Spanish property. Sea Hunt, Inc. v. Unidentified Shipwrecked Vessel or Vessels, 221 F.3d 634, 638 (4th Cir. 2000), cert. denied 531 U.S. 1144 (February 20, 200 I). Although the Court concluded in a case in which the wreck was thought to be in a different location, the vessel’s location was not determinative of the non-abandonment finding. Moreover, the United States was fully supportive of Spain’s position in the case.

…As we discussed on the phone recently, coordination with Spain is a reasonable request and one that falls to you to initiate as the project proponent

She still didn’t answer my question. By now I was convinced that both Spain and the Department of Interior believed the wreck was where I had pinpointed for them. To justify Spain’s intrusions, Nancy Finley was taking the position that Spain did not abandon La Galga in 1763 even though it was on the continent in 1763 when the Treaty was signed. Ms. Finley ignored the fact that the Sea Hunt court had been misled to believing that La Galga was in the ocean, in part because Spain stipulated that fact so that the litigation could proceed. In 1763, La Galga had no value to Spain and there would be no logical reason to expect a carve-out in the Treaty isolating La Galga.25

Since the Department of Interior has yet to acknowledge publicly that La Galga is buried in the Chincoteague National Wildlife, in violation of the Abandon Shipwreck Act, Section (6)(d), it is abundantly clear that the goal of the Department of Interior is to keep the truth in this matter from the public since The Hidden Galleon was published in 2007.

It is clear that Nancy Finley was parroting James Goold. I never heard from the Secretary of the Interior as I had asked, so Nancy Finley became the spokesperson for the Secretary.

In February of 2008, my initial permit request was made pursuant to the Archaeological Procedures Act of 1997. The USFWS never denied that request. If they had, I could have litigated the issue. But the real reason may be this:

Section 4(b)(3) of the ACT: The archaeological resources which are excavated or removed from public lands will remain the property of the United States, and such resources and copies of associated archaeological records and data will be preserved by a suitable university, museum, or other scientific or educational institution.

In light of the Sea Hunt case, would Spain feel comfortable having the federal government take over La Galga and inform the world that it was not found by Sea Hunt in the ocean rendering the Sea Hunt case void? Would there be a public battle over the remains of the shipwreck? Would public demand that the shipwreck which brought the horses to Assateague be excavated? The Department of Justice would have to choose sides ⸺continue to advocate for Spain or follow the laws of the U.S. and advocate for her citizens.



The District Court decision of April 27, 1999, in Sea Hunt, was at least an advisory opinion if not void. The same would then apply to the 4th Circuit findings.


John L. Amrhein, Jr. pro se



Amrhein, John L., Jr.,The Hidden Galleon: The True Story of a Lost Spanish Ship and the Wild Horses of Assateague Island, New Maritima Press, Kitty Hawk, NC 2007.

Horner, David, The Treasure Galleons, Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, NY, 1971

Owen, David R., “Some Legal Troubles with Treasure: Jurisdiction and Salvage, Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce, vol. 16, No. 2, April, 1985


  1. 7, Supplemental Brief of the Kingdom of Spain on the Issue of Salvage, May 27, 1999.
  2. Reply Brief of the Commonwealth of Virginia on the Salvage Award Issue, June 15, 1999, p. 2..
  3. Spanish dollars were legal tender in the U.S. until 1857.
  4. The Virginian-Pilot May 2, 2000, “Virginia, Spain vie for right to shipwrecks.”
  5. These facts were established in the District Court whose record says there is no evidence that La Galga and the Juno were found.
  6. The Virginian-Pilot, October 19, 2000, “Salvor finally junks long battle to get at contents of shipwrecks.”
  7. Artifact inventory. This inventory consisted mostly of inane objects like pins and a spoon, a musket ball, and nearly a hundred others. Two anchors were included as well as four Spanish coins dated 1734, 1740, 1741, and 1799.
  8. See Note 23, infra.
  9. Supreme Court, 121 S. Ct. 1079 (2001)
  10. Goold, INA Quarterly, Volume 28 #4, Winter 2001, p. 15.
  11. Idem, p. 16; The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne, IN, May 3, 2001. “Spain celebrates court victory over U.S. salvage companies”
  12. Archeological Overview and Assessment of Maritime Resources in Assateague Island National Seashore, Worcester County, Maryland & Accomack County, Virginia, 2002, Edited May 2009, Dr. Susan Langley, Maryland Historical Trust.
  13. 2006 loan agreement
  14. Odyssey discovery La Galga mentioned
  15. Amrhein affidavit, Docket #139, No. 92, November 17, 2008, Case # 8:07-cv-00614-SDM-MAP, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida.
  16. The Spanish Embassy invoked the Sunken Military Craft Act (SMCA) as a means to block my permit from 2008 to 2014. In 2015, the regulations for SMCA were published in the Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 168 / Monday, August 31, 2015. These regulations stated “Non-intrusive activities including diving on or remotely documenting sites do not require a permit or authorization from the NHHC (Naval History and Heritage Command, Department of the Navy). Spain’s attorney would later say that he didn’t believe that the SMCA would apply retroactively since it did not pass until 2004. According to these regulations, which only apply to sunken military craft in U.S. waters, a non-disturbance remote sensing survey would be permissible.
  17. Goold responds, January 26, 2009, #163.
  18. The shipwreck mistaken for La Galga was most likely the Sunbeam lost at this location in 1852. More on the Sunbeam see Amrhein, p. 279.
  19. Application and Proposal memorandum February 2008. In October of 2009, my attorney threatened John Wilson the permitting officer with a personal lawsuit. Wilson retired a few weeks later.
  21. The 1687 Boundary tree was noted on the 1859 Coast and Geodetic survey. See Amrhein, p. 276.
  22. Weber testimony.
  23. Langley 2002 Archaeological Overview and Assessment of Maritime Resources in Assateague Island National Seashore Worcester County, Maryland & Accomack County, Virginia, by Susan Langley, Phd., Maryland Historical Trust, for the Assateague Island National Seashore, National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Copy can be found at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Richmond. #AC-38. This report as well as others up to May 2009 by Dr. Langley had been available online at the Maryland Historical Trust but were removed sometime after 2009.
  24. The Spanish Embassy invoked the Sunken Military Craft Act (SMCA) as a means to block my permit from 2008 to 2014. In 2015, the regulations for SMCA were published in the Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 168 / Monday, August 31, 2015. These regulations stated “Non-intrusive activities including diving on or remotely documenting sites do not require a permit or authorization from the NHHC (Naval History and Heritage Command, Department of the Navy). Spain’s attorney would later say that he didn’t believe that the SMCA would apply retroactively since it did not pass until 2004. According to these regulations, which only apply to sunken military craft in U.S. waters, a non-disturbance remote sensing survey would be permissible.
  25. The only way Spain can claim legal standing to object to the permit application is to defeat the Abandoned Shipwreck Act which requires disclosure to the public of vessels abandoned on federal property.