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Sunken Spanish Galleons

Spanish Empire

At the height of the Spanish Empire, Spanish ships sailed endlessly carrying gold and silver, as well as other goods from the New World to Europe.

At the height of the Spanish Empire, Spanish ships sailed endlessly carrying gold and silver, as well as other goods from the New World to Europe. Many of the Spanish galleon ships met their fate at the sea, resulting in an incalculable amount of sunken Spanish treasures.

Expert archaeologists assume that the value of sunken Spanish galleon ships and treasures could be equivalent to the GDP of Ireland, whereas others estimate that the total value of Spanish patrimony lying at the bottom of the sea is priceless.

From the sixteenth century onwards, at the height of the Spanish dominance, the Indian fleet was set into motion. The fleet consisted of Spanish galleons that carried goods from the New World to Europe. Upon arrival, all goods passed through the Seville House of Trade, the organism in charge of keeping track of all the importations.

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean was by no means simple. The ships were subject to various hazards, the most important being the sea itself. Sea storms were frequent in the Atlantic and as a result countless ships were sunk along with their cargo of raw materials, gold and silver.

Besides the weather, the imperial Spanish galleons suffered a variety of other dangers. The political fight over areas of interest in the New World resulted in woven alliances and conflicts principally among three governments: Britain, France and Spain.

Undoubtedly, the main enemy of the Spanish Empire overseas until the nineteenth century was England. English corsair fleets incessantly attacked Spanish ships and coastal cities in both Spain and the Americas. As a result, many of the Caribbean Islands became part of the English Commonwealth, as is the case of Jamaica.

France and Holland also took part in the conquest and today France maintains territory in the Guadeloupe in Lesser Antilles and Martinique in the Eastern Caribbean Sea. The Dutch Antilles consist of two groups of islands in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean.

The European domination of the Caribbean put the most important ship route between Spain and New Spain (present day Mexico) in danger. It is estimated that off the coasts of Puerto Rico alone there could be over 400 sunken ships, including both official and smuggling ships.

The governments of the zone have taken measures to prevent plundering, which are not always successful. Many people hire treasure hunters in hopes that the return is worth the investment, although most are unsuccessful.

It is often thought that Spanish galleons were filled with gold, but that is not normally the case. The vast majority of the ships carried mainly perishable goods such as food, tobacco and leather.

One of the most important treasure hunters was Mel Fisher. After a 20 year search, Fisher discovered a Spanish galleon ship called Nuestra Señora de Atocha which sunk in 1622 in the Florida Keys. The treasure hunter was richly rewarded and it is estimated that treasures from the wreck fetched a total of 400 million dollars at auction. However, doubts still exist regarding the authenticity of some of the silver coins, which some believe Fisher minted himself. Mel Fisher passed away without having ever revealed the truth.

One of the most notorious cases in recent years involved the Odyssey Company which discovered a Spanish ship off the coast of Spain. The ship was called Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes and had sunk in 1808 between Cadiz and the southern part of Portugal. The Spanish State took the Odyssey Company to court, demanding the return of the treasures, and won. Spain maintains strict laws prohibiting the trafficking of items of historical heritage.