For more than three Years, Robert Pritchett and his crew searched the waters off the east coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral. Day after day, they woke at dawn and spent hours using high-tech equipment to scour the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Finally, in May 2016, Pritchett found what he had been searching for—the remains of a ship called La Trinité.
The vessel had set sail from France more than 450 years earlier, in a fleet sent to protect Florida, then a French colony, from Spanish invaders. But La Trinité sank in a storm in 1565.
Pritchett’s team recovered three bronze cannons and dozens of other artifacts from the ship’s wreckage. But they didn’t get to keep what they had found. By international law, sunken warships may be claimed by the country they are originally from—no matter how much time has passed. When France claimed La Trinité, a U.S. federal court ruled in its favor.
The case renewed an old debate: Should treasure hunters be allowed to keep what they find?