I was reading about the conflict between Spain and a company (Oddisey) about the ownership of a wrecked treasure ship. Essentially that ship was sunk in 1804 full of gold, and the dispute was about the ownership of the gold. That ship was launched in Cuba in 1786.

That gold belonged to a state called "Spanish Empire". I understood that american territories were not legally part of that "Spanish Empire". However there were several legally successor states between 1804 and today, more specifically there was a constitution in 1869 that declared Cuba and Puerto Rico as belonging to a successor state (First Spanish Republic). Countries that later on they get independent from, actually, a different successor state.

My question, in terms of the rights over previous possessions, in this case a ship wreckage, how is the legal successor of an state determined? In this case I see several potential successors who can claim the wreckage might belong to them:

  • Current Spain can claim as the natural successor.
  • Cuba and Puerto Rico can claim it was part of the legal country in 1869 that owned the ownership rights of the wreckage from the "Spanish Empire".
  • Cuba can claim, on top, that the ship was originally launched in La Havana in 1786.

So, how is the successor state determined? I see the problem here with Spanish Empire but I imagine USSR and Austrian Empire as similar situations...

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