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
8 The Ship of Gold $100-150 million
7 The Antikythera Treasures $120-160 million
6 Treasure of the S.S. Republic $120-180 million
5 The Diamond Shipwreck (Still being valued)
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.
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