Spanish Ship May Yield Richest Sunken Booty Ever, Finder Says

Associated Press

A treasure hunter who has found dozens of emeralds, gold and silver coins, swords and other booty in a sunken Spanish galleon says the treasure ship may prove to be the richest ever salvaged.

The Nuestra Senora de la Maravilla sank along the Bahama Banks in 1656 loaded with treasure that could be worth as much as $1.6 billion, Herbert Humphreys Jr. said.

"It is the second-richest treasure ship ever to sink," the Memphis businessman said from his base on the Cayman Islands. The richest known Spanish treasure galleon to have gone down, the San Jose, sank in 2,000 feet of water off the Colombian coast and has never been found, he said.

In addition to the gems and precious metals found in the last few months, Humphreys' salvage crew has found muskets inlaid with gold wire, a cannon, cannonballs, anchors, Spanish pottery and priceless Ming Dynasty porcelain.

Carried Silver, Gold

Shipping records say the vessel also carried 30 tons to 40 tons of silver and a solid gold, three-foot statue of the Madonna and Child, he said.

The Maravilla's position has been known ever since it sank. But 50 feet of sand kept it out of reach until Humphreys' specialized sand-blowing equipment uncovered it, he said.

A few million dollars of treasure was recovered in the early 1970s from one section of the ship, but the rest was not found until Humphreys' crews scanned the ocean bottom with sophisticated electronic equipment in May.

Government's Permission

Humphreys, who runs similar salvage operations around the world, sought and received from the Bahamian government the right to explore the wreck. He pays 25% of the recovered wealth to the Bahamas, while his Marine Archeological Research Ltd. keeps the rest. He said he had been searching for the scattered remnants of the ship on and off for the last decade.

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