The bountiful seas hold many, many treasures. Above and beyond these ten astonishing shipwreck treasures on our list, it is said that there may be as many as three million other shipwrecks scattered across the ocean floor. To excavate all these shipwrecks would take hundreds of years, but their treasures could be worth hundreds of billions. So, obviously, these wrecks are not only attractive to underwater archaeologists but to salvage operations, and treasure hunters around the globe. All it takes is just one great find for these scavengers of the underwater world and they could be set for life. That is, of course, if some government agency doesn’t swoop in and lay claim to their hard found fortune. Chances are that won’t happen, but it could. Under maritime and salvage law almost anything falls under international waters, though military wrecks will normally remain under the jurisdiction of their governments. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest shipwreck treasures ever found and who their fortunes went to.
10. The Salcombe Shipwreck (Still being valued)
It was between 1200 and 900 B.C. that a ship sank off the coast of Devon in England. At this time the Hanging Gardens had yet to be built, Babylon was still thriving, and Buddha would not arrive on the scene for centuries. In 2010 its discovery was announced. It was found by amateur archaeologists and so far over 300 artifacts have been uncovered, weighing in at over 185 lbs. The loot consists of weapons, jewelry, and tin and copper ingots. Though it only barely makes the list due to its small quantity of treasures aboard, what it lacks in volume it makes up for in significance. The age of the artifacts is impressive, and their existence proves a definite trade network during the Bronze Age existed between Europe and Britain. Investigations are still seeking the exact location of its origins, however, this feat is incredibly difficult as none of the ships parts are still intact.
9. The Belitung Shipwreck $80 million
The Belitung shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Indonesia in 1998, and marks the first Arabian ship to ever be found and excavated. The riches consist of an assortment of spice jars, funeral urns, inkwells, gilt-silver boxes, bowls and crystals. Some of the greater valued items include rubies and sapphires, a silver flask, and the largest gold cup ever found. Soon after its discovery and excavation the cargo was purchased by the Singaporean Government, who in turn loaned it to the Singapore Tourism Board indefinitely.
8. The Ship of Gold $100-150 million
In September 1857, during a hurricane, the S.S. Central America sank along with 15 tons of gold. This devastation largely contributed to the “Panic of 1857,” which, in the U.S., led to the first worldwide economic crisis. It was discovered in 1987. While being excavated 39 insurance companies made claim to the gold and other artifacts that were being recovered, because back in the 19th century they were all found liable and ending up paying damages way back when. After unavoidable legal battles the discovery team ultimately was awarded 92 percent of the gold. Shortly thereafter one gold bar, proved to be a very important piece of currency and broke a worldwide record at the time, selling for $8 million.
7. The Antikythera Treasures $120-160 million
The Antikythera shipwreck prompted the world’s first ever major underwater archaeological expedition. This was in 1900. After divers discovered the shipwreck the Archaeological Service of Greece launched the expedition. However, they were unsuccessful in recovering the most significant part of the cargo, and it wasn’t until 1976 that another team recovered the Antikythera mechanism. This “mechanism” is believed to be the world’s oldest analog computer. Though the ship carried many treasures, this piece has received so much attention from the media that few are aware of Antikythera’s other wondrous treasures, which include pottery, glassware, jewelry, statues, coins and copper couch beds. The Statue of Youth is one of the ship’s most remarkable recovered statues. The classical bronze statue dates back to sometime between 340 and 330 B.C. and is on display, along with the rest of the artifacts, at the Archaeological Museum in Greece.
6. Treasure of the S.S. Republic $120-180 million
The S.S. Republic shipwreck was discovered by Odyssey, a popular deep sea salvage and exploration company. The S.S. Republic had been submerged for more than 230 years upon its discovery. It was said to have sank during a hurricane in 1865 off the coast of Georgia. Along with nearly 14,000 artifacts, over 51,000 U.S. silver and gold coins have been recovered. Other treasures include thousands of glasses, bottles, and stoneware containers. As it seems to happen with most all found treasures, shortly after its discovery a lawsuit was filed laying claim to the wreck by a man who accused the Odyssey of using his information in location of the wreck. A federal judge ruled in favor of Odyssey, and in 2004 the company was legally awarded ownership of the S.S. Republic’s cargo.
5. The Diamond Shipwreck (Still being valued)
This shipwreck didn’t require scuba gear of any kind whatsoever. It was uncovered on a beach, buried deep in the sand. Geologists working for De Beers were the lucky ones to stumble upon this magnanimous site. Obviously they were quite stunned to come across such a thing, and many have described it as “the find of a lifetime.” The Diamond shipwreck is the oldest shipwreck ever uncovered on Africa’s coast. Not only did they find the remains of this ancient ship but the treasures it held were mind-blowing. More than 22 ingots were found along with 6 cannons, swords, more than 50 elephant tusks, and thousands of gold coins (traceable to King Joao III). Investigations led to the conclusion that the ship was a Portuguese ship, the Bom Jesus, which had sailed in 1533.
4. The British Treasury Ship $200 million
After it was torpedoed by a German U-boat the S.S. Garisoppa sunk in 1941. The cargo it carried was enormous. It was loaded with approximately 7 million ounces of silver. The total weight makes the S.S. Garisoppa the biggest known metal cargo ever found at sea. So who lays claim to this prize? The Odyssey Marine Exploration. It was in 2012 that they won the contract for exclusive salvage of the wreckage. Under the contract the Odyssey assumes all risk during excavation, and will receive 80 percent of the cargo, the other portion to go to the U.K. Government Department of Transport. What a deal!
3. The Whydah Gally $400 million
The Whydah Gally is one of the coolest ships ever discovered. Not only is it the only pirate ship ever discovered, but it belonged the richest pirate: Captain “Black Sam” Bellamy. The story goes that the Wydah was once a slave ship, upon capturing it and its bounty Bellamy let the survivors have one of his older vessels and be on their way, retaining the ship as his flagship. The ship was discovered in 1984 by Barry Clifford, and by no accident either. Clifford had searched for years for this infamous pirate ship. Its treasures are endless and are still being recovered today. So far, more than 200,000 artifacts including gold jewelry, coins, cannons, and even the ship’s bell have been surfaced. The artifacts now travel the world in an exhibition sponsored by The National Geographic Society. The exhibition has been aptly named “Real Pirates.” It is incredibly popular.
2. The Atocha Motherlode $450 million
The cargo, that is the treasure, that the Nuestra Senora de Atocha carried was so incredibly large and vast that it is said it took two months to load it. So, of course it sank! It went down off the Florida Keys in 1622, and all its gold, copper, silver, indigo, and jewels sank to the ocean floor. The Spanish tried desperately to recover it, but the sea can be a cruel, unfair beast. However, one man, Mel Fisher took on the beast and after scouring the seabed for nearly 17 years he was rewarded with victory, with the Atocha and all her fortune. The ship was located in July 1985. The wreckage continues to be explored and excavated to this day.
1. The Black Swan Project $500 million
The biggest shipwreck, with the greatest amount of treasure, would of course mean the greatest struggle to lay claim to said treasure. After discovery and excavation, in 2007, by the Odyssey Marine Exploration (these guys are all over these shipwrecks) they uncovered and flew 17 tons of coins from the Gibraltar to an undisclosed address in the U.S. However, once word got out about the ship’s discovery, its nationality came under debate. The ship was found floundering in uncertain territory, a location where Colonial-era ships were known to frequent. The ships age and size were also very vague. Due to these uncertainties very little was released about the wreck site. Being that this was the largest treasure haul ever discovered in the world meant this uncertainty needed to be sorted out right quick. Experts were called in, and could only return statements of astonishment, saying the find was “unprecedented” and “without comparison.” Finally, the Spanish Government filed its claim against the cargo, and stated they believed the ship to be the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which had been sunk by the British in 1804. In 2008, the U.S. federal court stepped in to order the Odyssey to disclose its findings — location of the wreck, and any artifacts and treasures uncovered. The information the Odyssey provided ruled out the Nuestra de las Mercedes. After five years of litigation the courts finally made a ruling in favor of Spain, and the treasure had to be flown back. But don’t worry about the Odyssey, they laid claim to almost every other shipwreck on this list.