With the USS Indianapolis finally being found there is one fewer shipwrecks lost under the waves.
UNESCO estimate that there are around 3 million shipwrecks under the water all over the globe with a combined value of around $60 Million worth of goods, so marine salvage is a big business with plenty of competition. While new wrecks are being found and mapped all the time every so often a huge find occurs filled with treasure. Sadly a lot of the ‘easy’ ones have already been found and others like the Titanic far out in deep waters, but there are still plenty out there, the trick is finding them with patchy records and hearsay to work out exactly where they are.
Here are just a few shipwrecks that have been found with life changing amounts of treasure and a quick history about them. If you’re interested in treasure hunting there’s a great book that I reviewed a while back called Pirate Hunters, all about how they found the Golden Fleece.
The Whydah Gally was a 28 gun 3-masted British slave transport ship that was taken over by the Pirate Captain ‘Black Sam’ Bellamy. Launched in 1716 and sunk in a violent storm in 1717 the Whydah had a short career, being taken over by pirates on the return leg of her maiden voyage.
The Whydah was chased down and overtaken by pirates but because the crew didn’t put up a fight the pirate captain took charge of the Whydah and gave the crew charge of one of his ships the Sultana. The Whydah became the flagship of pirate Captain Bellamy’s small fleet before sinking within a few short months in a terrible storm. The storm made it hard to find the wreck because when the storm capsized the ship her cannons were thrown around breaking her up into small pieces.
Found in 1984 in just 9m of water she was buried in sand and spread over 4 miles. Authenticated by her bell and placard being found, she is one of the very few fully authenticated Golden age pirate shipwreck to be found so far. Carrying gold, silver and gems the Whydah has an estimated value of around £400 Million (£307m) that was discovered by Barry Clifford who owns the rights to the wreck and keeps what is salvaged in a private facility for conservation and study while exhibiting a variety of the artefacts.
The Nuestra Señora de Atocha was a Spanish 3-mast Galleon, launched in 1621 and wrecked at sea in a hurricane in 1622 off Key West. Losing her sails and rudder in the hurricane she was pushed onto a reef which broke her keel and hull which meant she sank quickly. Loaded with around 40 tonnes of gold and silver as well as other treasures, that took 2 whole months to load, and sinking in just 16m of water she was tantalisingly close for Spain to loose so they spent the next few years sending slaves down in diving bells to collect what they could.
A second hurricane made further salvage and discovery difficult but the Atocha was re-discovered in 1985 by American treasure hunters Mel Fisher and Finley Ricard who have recovered gold and silver coins and gems from the Atocha. The treasure hunters had to settle for just 25% of the find when Florida claimed title to the wreck but after 8 years of litigation they were given full rights to the wreck.
The Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes was a 36 gun Spanish Navy Frigate, launched in 1786 and sunk by the British in 1804 off the coast of Portugal. She was transporting precious metals, livestock and spices valued at around $500 Million (£384m). The recovery, as most high value finds, has gone through great dispute and litigation. Disputed by the American founders of the wreck OME, Peru and Spain who each claimed ownership of the ship and her treasures.
Discovered around 2007 by the American Odyssey Marine Exploration company she was given the code name ‘Black Swan Project’ because the treasure found was scattered and the exact wreck couldn’t be identified as the Mercedes or any other wreck. The 17 tons of gold and silver coins and other treasures recovered by OME have been returned to the Spanish Government after the court order settled in their favour and the finds are on display at the Spanish Naval Museum and National Archaeological Museum of Spain.
The HMS Victory, not to be confused with the one in Portsmouth, was a 100 gun British ship, launched in 1737 and was literally lost in 1744 with great mystery as to what happened to her and where she lay. Carrying gold back to England she has an estimated value of upwards of $1 Billion (£770m) but this value is disputed. She was discovered far from where anybody thought she was by American salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration in 2008.
While the remains will go to the British Maritime Heritage Foundation the Odyssey Marine Exploration company will recover the remains which has sparked debate as many don’t want the American company to profit from the British war grave.
The RMS Republic was a steam powered ocean liner launched in 1903 and sunk in 1909 South of Nantucket after a collision with another ship in thick fog. Operated by the White star Line she was known as the Millionaires’ Ship, transporting the super wealthy and their valuables but there is a range of theories and rumours as to the exact cargo with a higher estimated value of $5 Billion (£3.8b).
Found in 1981 50 miles south of Nantucket Island in 82m of cold water two salvage operations have run to try and find the gold but nothing has been found yet and the fragility of the wreck is slowing proceedings.
The San José was a 3-masted Spanish Galleon that was launched in 1698 and sunk in 1708 off the coast of Columbia in a sea battle with the British. She was laden full of precious metals and jewels destined for Europe so there has been great debate over who owns her and exactly where she is because everybody wants a piece of her. Her discovery has gone through various legal battles since the Sea Search Armada claimed to have discovered her in 1981 but the Columbian Government has classified the remains actual location a state secret when the Columbian Navy located her in 2015.
The Shipwreck has an estimated value of between $1-17 Billion (£770m – £13b) because she sank laden with gold, silver and emeralds. In July 2017 the Columbian President announced that a deal has been arranged to salvage the wreckage but everything is being kept quiet so that illegal salvage doesn’t occur.
While the most I’ve ever discovered and lifted is a few weight pouches and a few dozen masks and snorkels lost at various dive sites what’s the best finds you guys and girls have found?