There are all sorts of strange celebrations in the UK and perhaps one of the most unusual occasions is here. International Talk Like a Pirate Day occurs on the 19th September and, on this day, participants frequently adopt pirate lingo, dress in costume, and raise money for charity.
Obviously, this celebration is to commemorate the romanticised version of pirates. The real pirates who plundered, stole, and murdered throughout history are not recognised.
We’ll admit the celebration doesn’t make sense – just accept.
Still, International Talk Like a Pirate Day got us thinking about all the hidden treasures rumoured to be scattered throughout the globe. While the clichéd maps don’t exist, there are certainly treasures hidden below the waves.
Although the exact figure is hard to estimate, there are believed to be around three million undiscovered shipwrecks in the oceans. Arguably, they are all valuable but some could have cargo holds filled with treasure. Here are four such vessels:
The Santa Maria is a ship with a famous history – sailing with Christopher Columbus’ fleet on his voyage to the ‘New World’. Although the ship arrived in port, the crew started a new journey searching the local area for treasures such as gold and spices.
Around – what is now – Haiti, on Christmas Eve 1492, the cabin boy was placed in charge of steering the ship. The reasoning for this is unclear, but we can assume more senior members of the crew were celebrating the date.
Perhaps inevitably, the Santa Maria ran aground – resulting in the crew abandoning the vessel. The spoils of the campaign could still be sitting in the ship’s hold.
Las Cinco Chagas sank off the coast of Portugal during 1594 following a conflict with British privateers. At the time, the ship was returning from an expedition in India where – according to accounts – it secured several crates of precious stones.
The cargo is probably still located near Portugal and is estimated to be worth about half a billion pounds.
The Merchant Royal is a vessel which sank closer to home – just off the coast of Cornwall. Succumbing to bad weather in 1641, the ship was carrying a substantial amount of gold with a current value of around £1bn.
As a result, many British treasure hunters have scoured the region for her location – searching for the cargo which could set them up for life. In 2019, substantial progress was made when the Merchant Royal’s anchor was discovered. Consequently, although the ship remains hidden, it’s probably only a matter of time before someone locates the vessel.
The Flor de la Mar was a large Portuguese Vessel which – similar to Las Cinco Chagas – made trips across the Indian Ocean. In fact, it spent almost a decade on such voyages. After all that time though, the ship needed substantial repairs.
Unfortunately, it was called upon to provide assistance during a Portuguese military campaign – despite reports stating the ship was unsafe. Around 1500, the ship was caught in a storm and sank below the waves. However, the ship is believed to have had a substantial amount of cargo aboard – totalling around £2bn.
If you found a shipwreck with treasure aboard, the rules surrounding ‘finders keepers’ do not apply. The International Convention on Salvage Rights has a few regulations regarding the process. For example, you must at least make an effort to return the treasure to its rightful owners.
As a result, you’d need to notify the country which owns those waters. That government will negotiate what happens to the haul. Before you think about not telling them, any dishonest conduct can also invalidate any claim you might have to the salvage.
Finding a wreck in international waters is a different story though. If no government claims ownership of the vessel, you may be entitled to take as much treasure as you can carry.
Although the prospect of finding sunken treasure is appealing, the costs of mounting an expedition are substantial. As a result, recovering a shipwreck is something you can only do if you have the capital required.
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