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Manuel Garcia-Hernandez — Treasure Hunting in the 21st Century

From Manuel Garcia-Hernandez via the Huffington Post:

A centuries-old shipwreck may cause Spain to sacrifice future recoveries and reopen colonial wounds.

On October 5, 1804, Spanish navy captain José Bustamante probably frowned when he looked through his telescope and discovered the Union Jack waving at the top of the mast approaching his frigate, off Cape St. Mary near Gibraltar. After overcoming illnesses, storms and attacks from pirates during five long weeks, the Spanish fleet that was bringing a cargo of gold, silver and other valuable goods from South America, was just 180 kilometers away from its final destination in Cadiz. But they never got to enter the safe waters of the Andalusian port.

A fierce attack from the British Navy commanded by Commodore Graham Moore was lethal for the four Spanish frigates. Three of them were conducted to Great Britain after Captain Bustamante surrendered. The fourth one, the frigate Santa María de las Mercedes was heavily bombed by the British guns and sank, filled with gold and silver coins, and 254 human lives.

The treasure has lain on the ocean floor for over two centuries. On May 18, 2007 the Tampa-based company Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. announced that it had recovered 17 tons of coins, mostly silver, off the Portuguese coast. It was the most valuable finding from a single shipwreck in history, the company said. A few days later, Odyssey showed some of the coins to the media. The Spanish Government immediately recognized the effigy of King Carlos IV and, matching the archive of vessels sunk, soon concluded that the treasure discovered by Odyssey belonged to Las Mercedes’ shipwreck, which contained over one million coins from Peru shipped from the port of Montevideo in 1804.

A new battle began. It is a battle that has lasted almost five years, where diplomacy and the legal arguments have replaced shotguns; a battle undertaken not in the fierce waters of the Atlantic Ocean but in the quiet halls of the American Courts.

Read more . . . .


Manuel Garcia-Hernandez has been an adviser to the Spanish Minister of Industry, Tourism and Trade. He is completing his Master’s of Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

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