Sunken 1715 Span­ish trea­sure ship yields more gold coins

The China Post - - LIFE - BY MIKE SCH­NEI­DER

Diver Wil­liam Bartlett had just started ex­plor­ing a 300-year-old shipwreck with a me­tal de­tec­tor late last month in the wa­ters off Florida’s At­lantic Coast when he found his first Span­ish gold coin. Then one coin be­came two and two be­came so many he had to stuff them into his div­ing glove.

When he resur­faced, “ev­ery fin­ger­tip was stacked with gold coins, and we knew then we were into some­thing su­per spe­cial,” the cap­tain of his boat, Jonah Martinez, said Thurs­day.

Over the next two days, Martinez, Bartlett and another trea­sure hunter, Dan Beck­ing­ham, found 350 coins worth US$4.5 mil­lion, the most valu­able find from the 1715 shipwreck site in re­cent decades.

Eleven trea­sure- laden ships that made up the 1715 Fleet were head­ing to Spain from Ha­vana on July 31, 1715, when they en­coun­tered a hur­ri­cane off Florida’s cen­tral coast. The winds and waves smashed the ships onto reefs, claim­ing as many as 1,000 lives in one of colo­nial Spain’s big­gest mar­itime dis­as­ters off Florida.

A Trea­sure Trove

In June, a fam­ily of trea­sure hun­ters found US$1 mil­lion in gold coins in area south of the latest dis­cov­ery.

The latest group of trea­sure hun­ters to find mil­lions of dol­lars in gold coins from the 1715 Fleet shipwrecks said they be­lieve “magic” has played a role in the dis­cov­er­ies this sum­mer, com­ing on the 300th an­niver­sary of the sink­ing of Span­ish colo­nial galleons.

“We all en­joy do­ing this and we all know the odds when we’re out there are find­ing noth­ing,” Martinez said. “To be able to go and do that, and then suc­ceed in some­thing like that, is more than any trea­sure.”

They ex­pect more dis­cov­er­ies to come, with US$400 mil­lion in coins still undis­cov­ered in a coastal area stretch­ing from Mel­bourne to Fort Pierce, known as Florida’s Trea­sure Coast.

“Five years ago, be­fore I got into this busi­ness, I would have told you that magic is in fairy tales,” said Brent Bris­ben, whose sal­vage com­pany, Queens Jewels, owns rights to the 1715 Fleet shipwreck site.

“I truly now be­lieve that there is an energy that per­vades these shipwrecks, that I can’t quan­tify. I truly be­lieve that these shipwrecks wanted their story to con­tinue, that this mag­i­cally hap­pened on this an­niver­sary be­cause this story still needs to be told and it’s cur- rently un­fold­ing.”

Any­where from a dozen to two dozen sub­con­trac­tors sign up with Bris­ben’s com­pany to search the shipwreck site each sum­mer. The sub­con­trac­tors are re­spon­si­ble for their boats, crew and other ex­penses which can tally up to US$50,000 each sum­mer.

Bris­ben’s com­pany pur­chased the sal­vage rights to the shipwreck five years ago from the fam­ily of trea­sure hunter Mel Fisher, who won a lengthy court bat­tle in the 1980s for the rights to the shipwrecks. Dur­ing the le­gal bat­tle, the Span­ish gov­ern­ment never as­serted an in­ter­est on the lost trea­sure and so it has no claim on it. The state of Florida did as­sert a claim, and it’s en­ti­tled to 20 per­cent of found ar­ti­facts for dis­play in a mu­seum in Tal­la­has­see. The re­main­ing dis­cov­er­ies are split be­tween Bris­ben’s com­pany and who­ever finds the trea­sure af­ter a fed­eral judge in Mi­ami signs off on it.

For any trea­sure found washed up on land, “it’s fin­ders, keep­ers,” Bris­ben said.

AP

Some of the gold coins val­ued at US$4.5 mil­lion found off the coast of Wabasso Beach on July 30-31 are dis­played dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in Se­bas­tian, Florida, Thurs­day, Aug. 20.

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