Spain seizes US treasure ship at gunpoint - firm

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GIBRALTAR, Oct 16 (Reuters) A Spanish warship seized a U S treasure-hunting vessel at gunpoint today, believing it had taken gold and silver worth millions of dollars from a sunken Spanish galleon, the US crew said.

The Spanish Navy corvette blocked the path of the Odyssey Explorer after it left Gibraltar, a British colony on the southern tip of Spain, and threatened to open fire when the captain refused to let police board.

The warship then escorted the boat, which belongs to U S company Odyssey Marine Exploration , to the Spanish port Algeciras so police could carry out a search.

''They threatened that we must obey or they would use deadly force,'' Ali Nessar, a company representative on the boat, told Reuters by phone.

''We were forced at gunpoint to come to Algeciras.'' Spanish police said they have a court order to search the vessel, but the company said it would deny police access once the boat docks in Algeciras.

''We are not going to allow them on board,'' Nessar said.

Madrid suspects the U S company has recovered treasure from Spanish waters or from a Spanish galleon in international waters, either of which would give Spain a claim to the booty, the government says.

Odyssey Marine Exploration has said it has legally discovered gold and silver coins worth an estimated 500 million dollars while working on a wreck code-named Black Swan at a secret location in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Odyssey Explorer had been berthed at Gibraltar's British naval base since May, under threat of arrest by Spanish police if it left the colony. It was not clear what its original destination was today.

It is the second time Spanish police have stopped an Odyssey Marine Exploration ship. In July police searched the vessel Ocean Alert, also on leaving Gibraltar, confiscating computer hard drives from the crew and journalists.

Reuters GL RN2034

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