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Florida family finds $300,000 worth of sunken treasure

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida family who spends their time together hunting for treasure struck it rich over the weekend, hauling up an estimated $300,000 worth of gold from an historic wreckage in the Atlantic Ocean.

"What's really neat about them is they are a family, they spend family time together out there and the most amazing part about them is they always believed this day would come," said Brent Brisben, whose company 1715 Fleet - Queens Jewels LLC owns the rights to the wreckage.

Brisben said Rick and Lisa Schmitt, and their grown children Hillary and Eric, found gold chains and coins from the wreckage of a convoy of 11 ships that went down in a hurricane off the coast of Florida in 1715 en route from Havana to Spain.

The ships' manifests indicate that about $400 million worth of treasure was on board, of which $175 million has been recovered, Brisben said.

His company bought the rights to the wreck site from the heirs of legendary treasure hunter Mel Fisher in 2010 and allows others, including the Schmitts, to search under subcontracting agreements.

Brisben said the Schmitts, who live in Sanford, Florida, have been searching for treasure for years. Eric Schmitt, who made the latest haul, also found a silver platter worth about $25,000 in 2002 when he was a high school sophomore.

Under U.S. and Florida law, the treasure will be placed into the custody of the U.S. District Court in South Florida. The state of Florida will be allowed to take possession of up to 20 percent of the find for display in a state museum. The remainder will be split evenly between Brisben's company and the Schmitt family, he said.

Brisben said the story of the 1715 wreckage was used as a basis for the 1977 film "The Deep" and for the 2008 film "Fool's Gold".

(Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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