Ship­wreck find could be the stuff of history

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Mi­ami

Trea­sure hunters have ap­par­ently found the 500year-old re­mains of a naval ex­pe­di­tion led by a col­o­nizer who could have changed Florida’s history, mak­ing it French­s­peak­ing at least for a while.

The big ques­tion is if the ship­wreck is that of La Tri­nite, the 32-gun flag­ship of a fleet led by Jean Ribault, a French nav­i­ga­tor who tried to es­tab­lish a Protes­tant colony in the south­east United States un­der or­ders from King Charles IX.

They prob­a­bly are, say au­thor­i­ties in Florida, the French gov­ern­ment and in­de­pen­dent arche­ol­o­gists.

And if they in fact are, this is an un­par­al­leled find, said John de Bry, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for His­tor­i­cal Arche­ol­ogy, a not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“If it turns out to be La Tri­nite, it is the most im­por­tant, his­tor­i­cally and ar­chae­o­log­i­cally, the most im­por­tant ship­wreck ever found in North Amer­ica,” he told AFP.

All in­di­ca­tions are that the ship­wreck found is the real thing.

The ar­ti­facts found at the site off Cape Canaveral in­clude three bronze can­nons with mark­ings from the reign of King Henri II, who ruled right be­fore Charles IX; and a stone mon­u­ment with the French coat of arms that was to be used to claim the new ter­ri­tory.

The re­mains are “con­sis­tent with ma­te­rial as­so­ci­ated with the lost French Fleet of 1565,” said Mered­ith Beatrice, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the Florida Depart­ment of State.

In 1565, Ribault set sail from Fort Caro­line, to­day Jack­sonville, to at­tack his arch-en­emy, the Spa­niard Pe­dro Me­nen­dez de Aviles, who had been sent to Florida by King Philip of Spain to thwart French plans to set up a colony.

But Ribault got caught in a hur­ri­cane, which de­stroyed La Tri­nite and three other galleons and ended French dreams of claim­ing Florida.

Ribault and hun­dreds of other French Huguenots were mas­sa­cred by Me­nen­dez de Aviles.

“If the French had not been driven south and ships sunk by the hur­ri­cane, we would have a to­tally dif­fer­ent story,” said de Bry. “Florida could have been speak­ing French for a num­ber of years.”

In mod­ern-day Florida, arche­ol­o­gists and his­to­ri­ans have been look­ing for this ship­wreck for years.

3 bronze can­non 3 can­non balls 3 bal­last stones 1 gran­ite stone 1 pick­axe Galleon “La Tri­nite” 32 can­nons Lost in 1565

Two years ago, an ex­pe­di­tion from the state-run St. Au­gus­tine Light­house Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mar­itime Pro­gram gave it a shot but found noth­ing.

Ma­rine arche­ol­o­gist Chuck Meide, who led that try, said “this is one of the most im­por­tant ship­wreck dis­cov­er­ies we have had in Florida.”

The find was fi­nally made in May of this year by a trea­sure hunt­ing firm called Global Ma­rine Ex­plo­ration.

But the owner of the com­pany is not happy. Robert Pritch­ett says he has in­vested $3 mil­lion in the gig and now runs the risk of get­ting noth­ing.

Un­der laws gov­ern­ing ship- wrecks, the US rec­og­nizes other coun­tries’ sovereignty over war­ships of theirs that sink in US wa­ters.

So Florida must — and it plans to — hand over the re­mains in this case to France.

But Pritch­ett does not want to end up with noth­ing and is promis­ing to fight it.

“It is not a French mil­i­tary ves­sel. Tell France to prove it. They can­not. I can tell you France has no proof of any­thing,” said Pritch­ett.

In Oc­to­ber GME filed a suit claim­ing own­er­ship of all the re­mains found at the ship­wreck site. But France and the state of Florida have filed a coun­ter­suit.

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