Edited from CKWS TV News report
Typical Spanish cargo British newspaper article
In an unprecedented
deal with President Fidel Castro, a Canadian company, Visa Gold, has won
the right to excavate
coral encrusted shipwreck sites off the northwestern coast of Cuba and around the tiny island of Juventud, which lies to the
The venture, which
could be the most lucrative in maritime history, is not only expected to
uncover the world's largest known
trove of sunken Spanish silver and gold but also looks likely to provide new insights into the ancient civilizations of the Aztecs
and Incas, whose artifacts were seized and transported to Spain in armadas of up to 100 ships.
From the early 16th
century, when Hernan Cortes, the legendary conqueror of Mexico, pioneered
the so-called silver route
across the Atlantic, Havana's deep harbor was Spain's gateway to the New World. The conquistadors of the countries two
great treasure fleets, the Tierra Firme and the Nueva Espana, put in there on their way to and from the main-land of south and
central America. Records show as many as 13,000 vessels passed through Cuba over the years. They carried the treasure
back to the Spanish port of Seville, then the world's commercial capital.
Many ships failed
to complete the journey, however, falling victim to pirates, buccaneers
and vicious storms. Their precious
cargoes often ended up on the sea bed. The ships that went down included the Santissima Trinidad, an Altimiranta-class galleon
armed with 60 cannon. It foundered in a hurricane in 1711, with the loss of $400m (£242m) in silver coins and other booty
bound for King Philip V of Spain.
About 400 sunken Spanish
ships are believed to lie in and around Havana harbor today, with 100 more
to the west. They are
thought to contain gold bullion, silver coins, ingots, gems and emerald studded jewelry worth billions of dollars. While
American salvers have methodically scoured the seabed off Florida, Cuban gunboats have kept them out of the island's waters
for four decades.
"So many other oceans
in the world have given up their secrets," said Phill Wright, a veteran
archeologist who led a team of Cuban divers into pounding surf about 10 miles west of Havana last week. "This
place still has wall to wall ships underwater that remain intact hundreds of years later. I don't expect it will be
difficult to find them. There are shipwrecks of many periods all long the area that we are searching."
Cuba's state owned
Carisub corporation tried for years to bring the treasure to the surface
but was frustrated by
lack of sophisticated equipment. Last year Castro, a keen diver in his youth, approved a deal under which Visa
Gold will keep half the proceeds of its excavations in return for its expertise in retrieval.
dives last week, the Canadian team was confident it was on the right trail.
It is expected to make
thousands more dives over the next four years, using remote tracking equipment to trace 93 wrecks.
"We found three piles
which were definitely ballast from a very old ship," said Wright. "Whether
Santissima Trinidad won't be certain until we can make more dives. We also found some pieces of metal and
ceramic shards in an area where the coral had broken away, exposing plates and bowls locked inside it."
Planes that have flown
over the site have taken photographs showing a row of five cannon and a
large pile of ballast
stones under the water with what appears to be the bow of a large ship protruding from sand and coral.
A giant gouge in the
coral reef suggests that a large ship, loaded to the gunwales, slammed
into it in a storm,
Probably killing most of those on board as giant waves pulverized the crew at passengers.
Further evidence has
come from documents unearthed bv the Canadian company in the Archives of
in Seville. A treasure map drawn up by a sugar plantation owner pinpointed the location of Spanish salvage
efforts immediately after the Trinidad sank on December 4, 1711 Some of the contents of her holds were
retrieved before a second tropical storm arrived two days later, sweeping part of the hull into deeper water. A
hurricane hit the coast 10 days later scattering the ship's cargo further afield.
Ed Burtt, the Canadian expedition leader,
says archival documentation shows much of the treasure remains,
although I.9m silver pieces of eight were saved. "It's hard to explain the feeling," he said as he uncrated and
calibrated $150,000 worth of search equipment that was shipped to Havana from Canada earlier this month.
"There is a sense
of reverence being down there with history - knowing a physical link to
the past has remained
untouched for so long. This is a wonderful chance for us to find and preserve a glorious chapter in history. Those
who lost their lives in the service of their king will not be forgotten."
Phil Wright, archaelologist, taking pictures at Isle of pines Cuba - search for sunken wrecks
Ship wrecks - Isle of pines
Ivan (Bandito) our translator
Havanna harbor entrance
Treasure from spanish galleons in cuban waters
Morro Castle. Entrance to Havanna harbour across bay. Collecting point of Spanish galleons. Then end of the "Galleon Alley".
Hurricane from top floor of hotel
Location of 1715 Spanish king's salvage vessel leaving Santistima Trinidad after being hit with a hurricane.
Carisub - Dive boat - Morro castle, entrance to Havanna harbour
Location of "Santistima Trinidad" 1711 fleet - King's Capitanna with $600 million registered manifest.
Ballast rock and surrounding ceramic shards
Tuning magnetometer in Cuba
Entrance to Havanna Bay where stacks of anchors were found from ancient vessels.
(Just right of the red channel buoy)
|Cannon ball with holy cross embossed on side signifying the king's ship, Santistima, Trinidad||Gold chalise in ballast pile, Santistima, Trinidad|
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