Almost since man could figure out how to swim, the seas have enticed us. Ocean travel remains a major part of our world as it’s still the best way to send thousands of tons of cargo to distant lands via cargo ship. But given that there are still sections of the planet deeper than the Grand Canyon, it’s no wonder there are still secrets of the oceans yet to be found. Of course, over the centuries, countless ships have fallen prey to the oceans in storms, war, and other incidents. From small sailboats to the mightiest ocean liners, the seas seem to go out of their way to remind man who is in charge by claiming various vessels. It’s estimated there are literally trillions of dollars’ worth of treasure scattered across the ocean, some in areas impossible to get to for now.
Naturally, this has led to an entire culture of treasure hunters out to get their hands on some lost riches. Some are well known while others can be trickier. Sadly, there are quite a lot of frauds out there who con folks into investing in “treasure hunts” that end up just being scams. However, there are still true treasures abounding in the oceans, some from ancient times while others are more modern. With technology increasing to get to more areas, more of the sea’s secrets are being revealed every year. Here are 25 of the most unique and valuable things found in the ocean and show just how much “sunken treasure” can truly cost.
25 Apollo 11 Rockets - $10 million
In 1969, the entire world was enthralled by the sight of men walking on the moon, still one of the greatest achievements in human history. Maybe we haven’t created those lunar colonies or such but the fact the Apollo 11 crew made this astounding move still is a favorite moment in America’s past. The module itself is at the Smithsonian but few cared about the rockets. As in the parts of the Saturn V rocket that blasted the module into space and were ejected, falling into the ocean.
Few, that is, except Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos who paid to salvage the two rockets from the ocean floor in 2013. They’re obviously not in the best condition after being fired, falling and spending several decades underwater. But they still have value by being attached to this great event and the promise of a place in museums to make this an intriguing modern-day find.
24 SS City of Cairo - $30 million
Launched in 1915, the City of Cairo was a steamer ship for years before being turned into a cargo vessel during World War II. On November 1st, 1942, she was on her way from Africa with over a hundred passengers along with slews of supplies and riches. A U-Boat hit the ship with many of its passengers lost awaiting rescue. The ship itself was lost until 2011 when a private firm managed to find it. Inside, it was found that the ship had been carrying a secret cargo of silver coins, no doubt meant to help the economy out.
They total over $30 million although their exact ownership is a bit in question. As it stands, it may not be the most expensive treasure ever found but it’s still insanely cool.
23 Belitung Shipwreck - $90 million
Long before the European powers were sailing the world, the Chinese were doing trading with what is now the Middle East and the Belitung was on a trip from Africa to China around 830 CE. It was discovered by fishermen in 1998 with speculation it was lost in a storm.
The main discovery is a treasury of items from the Tang Dynasty with gold coins along with statues, bowls and other artifacts, many in styles that have never been seen since that period. There’s also the ship itself, shedding new light on the trading between China and the Middle East and a terrific artifact on its own. Why it was in this spot is unknown but from a historical place, the wreck is the true trove of treasures in many ways.
22 Esmeralda - $100 million
Throughout the Age of Discovery, the Spanish, French, Dutch, and English were all competing to find the treasures of the New World and claim them for their own. In 1502, Vasco Da Gama brought a set of Portuguese ships to explore India but the Esmeralda was lost in what appears to have been a storm. It was considered forever gone but located in 2016 off the coast of Oman.
The old-fashioned munitions are a major draw along with the ship’s bell and copper discs. There was also a set of thirteen gold and twenty-four silver coins which showcase an amazing look at the era in question and are thus more valuable than merely their cost. The wreck is still being salvaged to find more.
21 Blackbeard’s Cannons - $100 million
To this very day, Blackbeard is a name feared and respected, a man played on film numerous times yet the real man’s story wrapped in as much legend as fact. His ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, was the most famous of his boats and carried out numerous harsh raids. In 1718, it was run aground in North Carolina after a battle with British forces and eventually destroyed.
Its resting place was secret until 1996 when it was found, mostly broken up but enough left to be salvaged. The biggest has been the cannons, huge artifacts that each weigh half a ton and are in surprisingly good condition. It’s Blackbeard’s name that adds to their value along with other artifacts left on board to add to the legacy of the most famous pirate of all time.
20 SS Central America - $150 million
It’s also known as the Ship of Gold and for good reason. Originally called the George Law, this steamer ran guests on trips from Central America to New York and was very popular with both merchants and the rich set. In 1857, the ship was struck by a storm off the coast of the Carolinas with over 425 people killed. Even bigger was how it had been carrying ten tons of gold mined from California. That loss was a huge blow to the public morale and played a part in the Panic of 1857.
It was recovered in 1988 with a bit of a legal fuss. It also got discoverer Tommy Gregory Thompson in trouble as he’d been promising big returns to his investors but never followed through on them. Regardless, it tells a great story.
19 1715 Treasure Fleet - $175 million
Spain had once been one of the major powers of Europe, a fantastic sailing fleet and a serious threat in wars. However, a major blow was dealt to them in 1715 they never quite recovered from. On July 31st, a huge fleet was coming in from the New World loaded with treasures intended to replenish Spain’s coffers. But a week after leaving Cuba, the fleet ran into a massive hurricane that sent a dozen ships to the bottom of the ocean. Over a thousand sailors were lost along with a fortune in gold and silver.
It’s been hinted more than a few pirates and salvagers over the years pillaged the wrecks before they were officially found in the 1960s. Over the years, various trips have been made to pull the gold coins up, some sold to collectors while others are in museums. The above amount is just what’s been found as there could have been more in this astounding treasure fleet.
18 Antikythera Treasures - $180 million
Its most famous entry is later on this list but the entirety of the find from Antikythera is very impressive. It was in 1900 that a group of sponge divers uncovered a set of ships dating back to the Bronze Age off the coast of Greece. Despite the lack of technology back then (diving was literally just helmets and hoses), the group was able to pull up some bronze statues before telling the government they needed more help.
Over the next few years, they uncovered a slew of marble and bronze statues, coins and other artifacts. Decades later, none other than Jacques Cousteau explored the area as part of his televised adventures, using modern equipment to uncover even more jewels and artifacts. They’re spread out among various museums in Greece to showcase an area that’s still giving up its secrets today.
17 SS Republic - $180 million
Following the Civil War, the United States was still in a rebuilding mode. The South had naturally suffered majorly with entire cities burned and folks realizing their Confederate cash was nothing but worthless paper. In October of 1865, the SS Republic, an ironclad that had seen service during the War, headed to New Orleans. It was packed with silver and gold coins to be used as “hard currency” for the city, estimated at about $400,000 in the day.
A huge storm hit the area without warning and the ship ended up floundering and sinking off the coast of what’s now Tampa. It was found in 2003 with about a third of the silver and gold coins recovered with the rest embroiled in a legal battle. The wealth, combined with the ship itself, adds up to almost $180 million in today’s money and how the U.S. provided some amazing underwater treasures.
16 Titanic Treasures - $200 million
When Robert Ballard found the most famous shipwreck of all time in 1985, he basically rewrote history. It had long been assumed the Titanic had gone down in one piece and would be in a good enough condition to salvage. Instead, the ship was broken in two, the pieces separated by a mile of debris and it was falling apart. However, much has been gathered that adds up to a rather hefty sum.
After all, the ship possesses an aura no other wreck has ever been able to touch and items have been known to go for thousands at auctions. While real treasures are buried in the wreck, it’s speculated a few passengers left some serious valuables on board when it went down.
15 SS Gairsoppa - $210 million
Like many merchant steam vessels in the 20th century, the SS Gairsoppa was reconditioned into a shipping vessel when World War II broke out. In February of 1941, she was part of a convoy bringing in supplies to England when a U-Boat attacked. The ship had been low on fuel and was trying to make it to Ireland when it was struck, sinking with 85 people still on board.
It took until 2011 for it to be found by the Odyssey group who discovered the huge amount of silver ingots, meant to boost up the British economy of the time. Further trips have followed to unveil more of its secrets with other materials but the silver bars remain the big draw. Some are in museums while others recovered by the British government to show the 20th century left as many treasures under the sea as any other.
14 Vasa - $300 million
It’s not so much the treasure of this ship that makes it valuable but its historical significance. In the 17th century, Sweden was actually a powerhouse in the world of shipping and traveling and the Vasa was a warship among the toughest of its kind. In 1628, it was given a grand send-off for its maiden voyage with thousands of onlookers in Stockholm watching it go…and then somehow capsize and sink with 30 people still on board.
It was a huge humiliation for Sweden and the wreck was mostly forgotten afterward. But in the 1950s, it was found by a new crew who discovered the wreck in astoundingly good condition. It was raised up, refitted and now rests in its own museum.
13 Whydah Gally - $400 million
Originally, the Whydah Gally was a cargo ship built in England. However, it achieved a different kind of fame when notorious pirate “Black Sam” Bellamy captured it for his own use. Bellamy used it to attack various ships up the American coastline and capture their bounties. In early April of 1717, Bellamy was lost with the ship in a monster storm off the coast of Cape Cod. It took until 1984 for the wreck to be found by Barry Clifford with the Massachusetts courts backing his claim.
Obviously, the treasures of gold and silver coins are the big draws but there’s also the ship’s bell and the historical value as Bellamy was famous for being the “Robin Hood of pirates.” The artifacts are on display in a museum in Cape Cod to showcase one of the most famous pirates’ troves ever found.
12 Atocha - $450 million
It remains a great irony that one of the most famous underwater treasures ever was found by a former chicken farmer. Mel Fisher had been doing diving for years, enduring hardships and a terrible family tragedy in order to achieve his dream of finding something amazing. It came true in 1985 when Fisher found the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha. The ship had been part of a huge Spanish treasure fleet when it was sunk in a storm off the Florida Keys in 1622.
Fisher found a horde of gold, silver, coins and various jewels, all intact. The State of Florida stepped in to try and grab it but Fisher ended up winning a big legal fight to keep it himself. While Fisher passed away in 1998, his legacy lives on. A major tourist spot in Key West is a museum showcasing the various treasures from the ship and Fisher’s discovery that marked a great victory for the little guy.
11 Black Swan Project - $500 million
A complicated series of events began back in 1804 when the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy) was sunk in 1804. The Spanish ship was taken down during the Battle of Cape Santa Maria off the coast of Portugal. In 2007, the Odyssey Marine Exploration team, operating under the code name “Black Swan” discovered the wreck and found its massive trove of half a billion dollars in gold and silver bars scattered on the ocean floor. It was a huge find for both its wealth and historical value.
However, Odyssey had no idea they’d be kicking off one of the ugliest legal battles over a shipwreck in history. Because Odyssey was keeping it so quiet (including claiming they’d found another ship), the Spanish government claimed it was fraud and the treasure belonged to them. It went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before Odyssey was forced to hand the treasure over and pay the Spanish government a million dollars to boot. The coins and bars are now on display in various Spanish museums while this treasure ended up costing Odyssey big time.
10 Underwater Sphinx - $600 million
For millennia, Alexandria had been a name meant to entice people. Founded by Alexander the Great, the city was later his tomb while boasting a population of millions, a “summer home” for Cleopatra as well as a library that was sadly lost during the fall of Rome. Thanks to weather, earthquakes and the shifting terrain, much of the city ended up being swallowed by the sea with modern Egypt being built atop it.
In 1992, Franck Goddio began a series of expeditions that uncovered the city, still mostly preserved after so long underwater. Among the finds excavated was a huge statue of a sphinx estimated at $600 million due to both its actual cost and its historical value. It now rests in a Cairo museum but it’s only the tip of the iceberg of the trove of what was once one of the great cities of the world now a major spot for divers today.
9 Salcombe Shipwreck - $800 million (so far)
What makes this site so unique is that no one is sure of its origins or how much is actually there. It was first discovered in the early 1990s in Salcombe, off the coast of Devon, England. First, there was a ship that dates to the mid-17th century loaded with gold from Morocco. Its name remains unknown but the treasures on board indicate it may have been a tribute ship from the royal family of the time.
In 2004, a shift in the seabed exposed the remains of a Bronze Age ship dating to the 13th century B.C. That’s even more unknown yet it’s been boasting a trove of artifacts from the era. With more of it being discovered, its worth is just increasing to under a billion dollars.
8 Antikythera Mechanism - $900 million
In 1900, a group of sponge divers in Greece found what seemed to be an ancient wreck underwater. Records indicated it was from the fourth century B.C. and loaded with a variety of coins and statues of that era. The following year, archeologist Valerios Stais was examining the wreck and found what he assumed was some sort of clock. Instead, it was, in essence, the world’s first computer.
This complex series of wheels and gears are able to predict astronomical events such as eclipses and the four-year cycle of Olympic games. It took several decades for modern archeologists to figure out its worth. It’s now on display in Athens, and is still being studied.
7 HMS Victory $1 billion
Most connect this ship to being the personal flagship of Admiral Nelson during the epic Battle of Trafalgar. That ship was eventually retired and is now a revered tourist spot in London. But before that, there was another Victory, a simpler vessel that was sunk in a storm in 1744 in the English Channel with all hands lost. It was mostly forgotten in the wake of the more famous ship of the same name until it was found in 2016.
The group Odyssey Marine Exploration keeps the exact location quiet for fear of salvagers as it turns out the ship had been carrying about four tons of gold when it was sunk. That’s over a billion dollars today, not to mention the worth of the cannons and other items. It’s been a sensation in England as the ship’s loss was a huge tragedy in its day but now has a happier ending with its discovery.
6 Flor de La Mar - $2 billion
Translated as “Flower of the Sea,” this man-of-war was one of the finest vessels in the Portuguese fleet in the early 16th century. Despite various issues and repairs, it was still pressed into service to carry treasures when it was sunk in a storm in 1511. Right now, there’s actually controversy over its “find” as one man claimed to have discovered it in 1992 but it’s up in the air whether it’s the actual Flor or another ship.
It wasn’t helped by how the search was called off following an extensive legal battle between Portugal, Spain, Indonesia, and Malaysia. If it is the right ship then it still lies there, waiting for someone to come along and bring up its billions in gold, making it a unique case of a “lost” treasure right in plain sight.
5 RMS Republic $5 billion
Not to be confused with the SS Republic, this was a steam-powered ocean liner launched in 1903 by the British-set White Star Line (who later famously launched the Titanic). It was catered to the rich and had several millionaires aboard when in 1909 it collided with another ship while in a thick fog. Thankfully, this was one of the first ships equipped with the then-new Marconi wireless radio system.
As such, they were able to get off an SOS in time for rescue crews to arrive and thus save the 1500 passengers aboard. Obviously, a lot of valuable items were left on board and many scholars believe that the ship was also carrying several million in gold bullion intended for Russia. That’s yet to be discovered in various dives but other items have been found that rank it among the highest worth shipwrecks around.
4 Heracleion Treasures - $5-10 billion
The Egyptians called it Thonis while the Greeks named it Heracleion but either way, it’s been seen sometimes as a myth and sometimes as a reality. Once a key port near Alexandria, it was affected by a huge earthquake that sank it beneath the waves which some scholars believe inspired the legend of Atlantis. While there had been reports for years, it was finally discovered in 2000.
Much of it remains underwater but there have been excavations to bring up items like statues and a large sphinx among various other treasures. The estimated worth can be up to $10 billion not just for its historical value. Indeed, it seems only 5 percent of the city has actually been uncovered which means there can be much more treasure buried.
3 San Jose - $4 to 17 billion
A three-masted galleon of the Spanish Navy, the San Jose was sunk in battle off the coast of Cartagena in Columbia in 1708. It was part of the famous Spanish treasure fleet during the War of Spanish Succession and thus was loaded with gold, coins, and other treasures. It remained lost for years with a group claiming they found it in 1981. However, this kicked off a very long and rather ugly legal battle.
In 2015, a professional crew found the full wreck, claiming it for Columbia. They keep the exact location secret as a salvage operation is underway. It was calculated that the treasures would be equal to at least $4 billion today and as much as $17 billion depending on how much can be found.
2 Caesarea Treasure - Priceless
In 2016, a pair of amateur divers, Ran Feinstein and Ofer Raanan, were checking out the Israeli coast when they found what looked to be an old broken down ship. Exploring it, they uncovered a trove of nearly 2000 gold coins along with various statues and other items. The authorities were contacted and they soon uncovered more of the ship which is believed to have been a cargo vessel that sunk nearly 1600 years ago.
It’s being called one of the most amazing finds of Roman treasure in Israel. Combined with an earlier discovery in 2015 of what seems to be a ship of the same type, means that the trove is still being calculated. However, it’s estimated the combined worth may be more than could be counted and outweigh previous treasures, making this the most priceless underwater discovery yet.
1 The First Sea Battle - Priceless
The Punic Wars were when sea combat came to the forefront. On March 10th, 241 BC, the Roman forces clashed with the Greeks and Carthaginians in the Battle of the Egadi Islands. This was the first recorded full naval battle with rams, convoys and other things that would become commonplace. Rome was victorious, placing Sicily under Roman control for centuries.
In 2013, a huge expedition discovered the site of the battle, littered with the remains of numerous ships of both sides. They offer some treasures of gold, coins, and other items. But their real worth is of the scholarly value, boasting fantastic insight to a key event in the history of the region and a flashback to how both sides once operated. That site, of the first known conflict at sea, is what makes this worth more than just money but an area that changed the world forever.
Sources: Mental Floss, National Geographic