Gold rush:

The UN 2001 convention on protecting underwater cultural heritage was right to oppose the plundering of sunken archaeological treasures for profit. Unfortunately, only 15 countries have ratified the agreement, and the plundering has begun. In what may become the biggest underwater find ever, Odyssey Marine Explorations, a comm-ercial operation from Tampa, Florida, has reportedly hauled 17 tons of gold and silver from a ship widely believed to be the Spanish ga-lleon Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes that was sunk by a British warship off the coast of Portugal in October 1804.

The company claims ownership of its find. And Spain is hiring lawyers and preparing its legal claim to the trove. It’s going to be a protracted legal battle, but we think it would only be right to let another set of plaintiffs stake their claim to the treasure, too. Though a potential Peruvian claim to the treasure would rest on tenuous legal grounds — it could make a sound case based on moral considerations: The Inca didn’t freely give gold and silver to the Spanish invaders. Spain took it by force. The fate of the treasure however is likely to be defined now in a federal court in Tampa, where Odyssey quietly stashed the hoard. When the lawyers from Odyssey face off with those representing Spain, perhaps Peru’s lawyers should come, too.