Battle Over Shipwrecks Continues

Tuesday, October 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The question of who owns two shipwrecks off the Virginia coast has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but a key figure has dropped out of the case.

Ben Benson has sold his Chincoteague-based exploration company, Sea Hunt Inc., to investors, Anthony Troy, an attorney for the company, said Monday.

Benson had spent more than $2 million of his own money — mostly in court — fighting for the right to keep his salvage rights to two Spanish warships he found in the Chesapeake Bay.

A federal appeals court ruled over the summer that Spain owns the wrecks. The U.S. government supported Spain, arguing that allowing the salvage of foreign warships would subject U.S. vessels to the same fate.

Sea Hunt and the state of Virginia, that had granted the company salvage rights in return for 25 percent profit, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court last week, Troy said.

The frigate Juno disappeared near Virginia in 1802, possibly carrying $500 million in precious metals. The frigate La Galga sank a few miles away in 1750.