On 14 February 2012, after a five-year legal battle, and with all of Odyssey Marine Exploration's resources exhausted, the American courts passed a judgement ordering the treasure-hunting company to hand over the cultural property removed from the wreck of the Mercedes to the Spanish State. Spain was given access to the load on 21 February and shipped it to Spain on the 24th of the same month.
A team of technicians from the National Archaeological Museum and the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology, ARQUA, accompanied by staff from the Department of Fine Arts and Cultural Property and Archives and Libraries of the Ministry of Culture flew to Sarasota (Florida, USA) to ensure that the proper monitoring, conservation and security conditions were in place for the cultural property during its journey back to Spain. This journey was the end of a complex operation that the Department of Fine Arts and Cultural Property had been preparing since 2010 in order to be able to act immediately when the final resolution was decided. Prior technical inspections, carried out in the United States in April 2008 and in November 2011, allowed inventory updates to be conducted and the necessary information to be completed to ensure the effectiveness of the operations, despite the urgency required.
Over three intense days of work, the technical team recorded and documented more than 14 tons of coins and other materials. It also oversaw the transfer of the property – that had been sealed and labelled – from its place of storage during the legal proceedings onto the two C-130 Hercules aircraft from Wing 31 of the Spanish Air Force, which were waiting at the MacDill air base in Tampa (Florida).
At midday, on 25 February, the two Hercules landed at the Torrejón air base where the load was transported to the Ministry of Culture in Madrid, escorted by members of the Civil Guard. Finally, this property was unloaded and placed in secure storage.
On 30 November 2012, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport presented its plan of action for the frigate Mercedes and announced that the cultural property recovered would be sent to ARQUA, the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Just two days later, on 2 December, the transfer took place: after 208 years, the journey was over.