The British cargo ship, torpedoed in June 1942 while carrying precious metals to the United States to help pay for the Allied war effort under the Lend-Lease Act, was recently discovered by the Sub Sea Research company off Guyana.
The sunken ship, possibly called the Blue Baron, is believed to contain gold, platinum and diamonds worth some $3.7 billion. A large part of the cargo is thought to have belonged to the Soviet Union.
"There are grounds to think so," said Anatoly Kolodkin, the president of the Russian Association of the International Maritime Law, when asked whether Russia had the right to file a claim for the treasure.
The discovery came to light only after the Sub Sea Research company filed a claim on the treasure in a U.S. court. Maritime salvage law is notoriously complex and the company's founder and co-manager Greg Brooks said it would do everything it could to claim the treasure for itself.
"I know that everyone possible will try to take it from us, but we are doing everything by the book," he was quoted as saying in Britain's Sunday Telegraph. "The worst-case scenario, under salvage law, is that we would get 90 per cent of it."
Kolodkin said Russia has not yet lodged its claim for the treasure. He urged however that the documents that might prove that Russia, as a legal successor of the Soviet Union, "owns part of the cargo" be thoroughly studied.
Olga Kulistikova, the vice president of the Association of the International Maritime Law, said Russia could have the right for the claim if the Soviet Union had paid for the Lend-Lease differently after learning that the Blue Baron sank.
"If this is so, we can have the right for a part of the cargo based on the fact that the documents are found and it is confirmed that the ship was aimed for the payment [under the U.S. program of military and economic aid] and we received the Lend-Lease," she said.