This Week in History: The Treasure Ship Nuestra Señora de Atocha

Atocha mapThis Week in History the discovery of  Nuestra Señora de Atocha (“Our Lady of Atocha”) on July 20, 1985 is rivaled only by the King Tut’s treasure. Mel Fisher and his investors in Treasure Salvors had searched for the wreck for over sixteen years. Imagine the celebration when Mel’s son, Kane, radioed the news from the salvage boat Dauntless to Treasure Salvors headquarters on the Florida coast when the wreck was discovered.

Nuestra Señora de Atocha (“Our Lady of Atocha”) sank in 1622 off the Florida Keys while carrying an estimated $400,000,000 in treasure. In 1980 Fisher had salvaged part of the Atocha’s sister ship, Santa Margarita,  which had run aground in the same storm, but the Spanish had managed to salvage much of it already. The Spanish, however, had been unable to locate the Atocha with its treasure of silver, gold, and emeralds.

GoldUnderwaterThe professional divers were working for  minimum wage when they found the treasure which included stacks of silver bars, chests of silver coins, gold, jewels, and thousands of other unique artifacts from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. The forty tons of salvaged coins, both gold and silver, were minted primarily between 1598 and 1621.

After the discovery, the Florida claimed title to the wreck and forced Fisher into a contract giving 25% of the found treasure to the state. After eight years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Fisher in July, 1992.

Atoche goldWhat now? The sterncastle, the part of the ship that would hold most of the gold and emeralds, is still missing from the shipwreck. These and other valuable items would have been stored in the Captain’s cabin for safekeeping in the rear part of the Atocha. In June 2011, Fisher treasure divers from found an antique emerald ring believed to be from the wreck of the Spanish ship. The ring is worth an estimated $500,000. The ring was found 35 miles from Key West with two silver spoons and other artifacts. Who knows what else lies beneath the waves?

Tomorrow, The Wreck of Nuestra Señora de Atocha

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