Avast, matey! Is John Edwards a pirate? The Spaniards say yes, and they want their plundered loot back. The candidate for the Democratic...

NEW YORK — Avast, matey! Is John Edwards a pirate? The Spaniards say yes, and they want their plundered loot back.

The candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination turns out to have a share in the recovered treasure trove revealed nearly two weeks ago.

Edwards is an investor in Odyssey Marine Exploration, the Tampa, Fla., company that said it found a Colonial-era sunken ship laden with 17 tons of silver and gold coins, jewelry and other objects.

The haul, which has been spirited back to the United States, is said to be worth more than $500 million.

Spanish officials are up in arms, saying the booty is rightfully theirs and accusing Odyssey of “plundering” the riches.

The Spaniards think the ship is the legendary Merchant Royal, which sank in 1641 carrying the Spanish Army’s payroll in a vast trove of silver coins.

James Goold, a maritime lawyer representing Spain, said he filed a claim in Florida “contesting Odyssey’s right to … recover treasure from Spanish ships or Spanish property.”

He said he went to court after Odyssey officials refused to say where they found the wreck site, code-named “Black Swan.” When announcing the find, Odyssey officials said the site was outside any country’s territorial waters and declined to give the wreck’s location or to name the ship.

If the vessel was Spanish or was removed from Spanish waters, any treasure would belong to Spain, Spain says.

“Spain has decided to go to [the] courts to claim its right in case the discovery is Spanish,” said Susana Tello, Culture Ministry spokeswoman. The lawsuit was filed in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Tello said.

A message and e-mail left for an Odyssey spokeswoman were not returned.

Odyssey officials said that even if another party has a claim to the wreck, salvage law usually awards 90 percent of the loot to the finders.

Technically, Edwards has already seen spoils from the sunken ship. He is a major investor in Fortress Investments, which has a 10 percent stake in Odyssey. The company’s share price soared 81 percent after the find was announced May 18.

Associated Press material is included in this report.