10 Biggest Shipwreck Treasures Ever Recovered
It's said that there are over 3 million sunken ships strewn across the ocean’s largely unexplored floors, and that the amount of riches and wealth they may contain are simply immeasurable.
From gold doubloons, to solid platinum bullion, to 2,000-year-old Roman pickle jars, here are some of the most valuable shipwrecks ever recovered.
10. 3,422 Carthaginian bronze coins
Value: $17 million?
While surveying land to create an underwater tourist itinerary, Italian archeologists accidentally discovered a stash of 3,422 ancient bronze coins chilling off the shallow coast of Pantelleria, a small island about 70 miles south of Sicily.
The coins, which archeologists believe date back to between 264 and 241 B.C., are thought to have been purposefully left there by a Carthaginian ship on its way to Sicily to support an anti-Roman movement of some sort.
For one reason or another, they decided to hide the coins 68 feet below the surface. Unfortunately, they never got around to picking them back up. Whoops.
It's hard to put a value on antiquities like this, but since they're so rare we put it in the ball park of around $5,000 each.
9. 300 well-preserved Roman wine jugs
Ship: Roman Cargo Ship
A team of U.S. and Albanian archeologists uncovered the wreck of a Roman cargo ship in August 2011 dating all the way back to the 1st Century B.C.
Regarded as one of the most historically fascinating wreck recoveries in modern history, the ship, discovered 50 yards below the surface off the coast of the Albanian city of Vlora, yielded 300 perfectly preserved jugs used to transport wine, oil, and pickled goods.
And while the prospect of drinking 2,000-year-old wine sounds mind-blowingly awesome, don’t get your hopes up—the stoppers in the bottles had dissolved, spilling the jugs’ contents into the sea (along with our tears).
8. Captain Morgan's canons and chests
Value: Depends on what's in those chests. But the loot is definitely worth at least the price of a multi-million dollar marketing campaign.
Captain Morgan isn’t just the guy whose legendary pose you imitate when you’ve had a few too many piña coladas at the neighborhood patio bar, he was also a pretty righteous dude and one of the few real pirates of the Caribbean.
In 2012, a team of expeditionary archeologists from Texas uncovered what they believe are the remnants of Morgan’s flagship, Satisfaction, which he lost in 1670 during a historic battle at Fort San Lorenzo.
The team unearthed six of the pirate’s famed canons, as well as several unopened cargo boxes and chests, which could be filled with anything—aged 17th-century rum, an unimaginably valuable quantity of pirate booty, or well, nothing at all. No one has opened them, for some reason.
Either way, the artifacts are priceless pieces of history, left behind by one of the world’s most feared pirates and privateers.
7. 51,000 American gold and silver coins
Value: $120 and $160 million
The S.S. Republic survived service for both the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War but couldn’t outrun a hurricane in 1865 while in transit to New Orleans.
Delivering passengers and $51,000 in gold coins to the Union stronghold, it encountered a hurricane somewhere off the coast of Georgia. The crew and passengers escaped, but The S.S. Republic and her cargo were all but lost until its rediscovery in 2003 by American archeology firm Odyssey Marine Exploration.
A salvage effort recovered roughly a third of the ship’s alleged cargo, which was valued at $75 million, but that still leaves roughly $140 million of the treasure sitting 1,700 feet below the surface, off the coast of Savannah, Georgia.
The treasure’s possession has been highly contested, as famous German-born archeologist E. Lee Spence claims the folks at Odyssey found the wreckage using his information. The court battle is ongoing.
6. 15 tons of American gold bullion
Ship:S.S. Central America
Value: $150 million
Known to archeological explorers as the "Ship of Gold," the S.S. Central America was packed with so much gold (15 tons, to be exact), that when it was sunk by a hurricane in 1857, it sent the U.S. into economic crisis. Seriously.
Re-discovered in 1988 by the Columbus-America Discovery Group of Ohio, over 30 insurance companies tried to lay claim to sunken treasure.
After failing to pay back his crew and investors, Tommy Thompson, the group’s leader, went into hiding in 2012 and was found in Boca Raton, Florida, in 2015. Since Thompson and his technicians only recovered three of the reported 15 tons of gold in 1998, a judge has given Odyssey Marine Exploration permission to recover the rest of the gold, which will be used to pay off Thompson’s investors and crew.
Which leaves us with one question: Is Tommy Thompson technically a pirate?
5. 110 tons of British silver bullion
Value: $300 million
The S.S. Gairsoppa was a British merchant vessel that was fired upon and sunk by German U-Boats in 1941, right in the thick of World War II. The ship left its convoy to refuel in Ireland when it was spotted by Nazis and sunk, sending 85 servicemen and an estimated $300 million in silver bullion to the bottom of the sea.
Re-discovered in 2011 roughly 15,400 feet below the surface by Odyssey Marine Exploration, the S.S. Gairsoppa is hailed as one of the largest and most precarious precious metals recoveries ever. The $300-million pot was split 80-20 between Odyssey Marine Exploration and Her Majesty’s Treasury of the United Kingdom. Not too shabby!
4. Over 4 tons of gold, silver, jewelry, canons, and coins
Value: $400 million
The Whydah Gally belonged to one of the richest pirates ever, Captain “Black Sam” Bellamy. The old slave-trade ship was stolen by Bellamy and repurposed into his flagship. Just two months later, it was run aground and sunk after a major storm forced it ashore off Cape Cod.
The ship, along with its hundreds of millions of dollars worth of treasure, was found in 1984 by underwater archeological explorer Barry Clifford.
The best part? The wreck, which had eluded explorers for over 250 years, was discovered less than 20 feet below the surface (under 14 feet of water and 5 feet of sand).
3. Gold, copper, silver, precious jewels, and more
Ship:Nuestra Señora de Atocha
Value: At least $450 million
Rumor has it that it took two whole months to load the cargo onto the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which included everything from precious jewels to gold, copper, silver, and indigo. It was basically a floating treasure chest.
But thanks to a treacherous hurricane, the ship was driven onto jagged corral reefs 35 miles south of Key West, and sank like a sack of [gold] bricks.
Upon hearing of the devastating loss, the Spanish sent a whole fleet of rescue ships to salvage the sunken ship. Unfortunately, the 55-foot depth of the wreck, along with another bad hurricane that scattered the wreckage even farther apart on the ocean floor, made the recovery efforts futile.
That is, until treasure hunter Mel Fisher found the wreckage in 1985 after 17 years of searching. The excavation is ongoing, but the findings so far have been valued at over $450 million.
2. Spanish gold and silver coins
Ship: Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes
Value: $500 million
The Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes was a Spanish warship that was sunk off the coast of Portugal by British commander Graham Moore after the ship’s captain refused an inspection. The three other ships in the convoy, the Madea, Santa Clara, and Fama complied with Moore’s requests, which was a bummer, because they were only filled with salt, cinnamon, and…quinoa.
They didn't seize any silver, but they did grab enough quinoa to make all of Great Britain cinnamon apple quinoa parfait for a whole week.
Odyssey Marine Exploration (again) discovered the wreckage in 2007, and after a lengthy court battle, were forced to hand the loot over to the Spanish government, along with a hefty $1 million penalty for “bad faith and abusive litigation.”
1. Tons of American gold coins
Value: As much as $5 billion
The RMS Republic was a luxury ocean liner that first set sail in 1903 and was known as the "Millionaire's Ship” because of its immensely wealthy passengers. However, after being sunk in a collision with the S.S. Florida in 1909 while en route to ports in the Mediterranean, several rumors have surfaced regarding the ship’s cargo.
Captain Martin Bayerle, who re-discovered the sunken cruise ship in 1981 roughly 270 feet below the surface and approximately 50 miles south of Nantucket Island, says the ship was hauling more than just people.
In his book, The Tsar’s Treasure, Bayerle alleges that the RMS Republic went down with $3 million in gold coins that was headed to Russia on loan from the U.S. government.
Two recovery missions have come up empty handed, but Bayerle is confident that the coins, which are valued from hundreds of millions to even billions of dollars, are down there somewhere.
Maxwell Barna is a contributor with Supercompressor, and may or may not have forwarded his resume to the people at Odyssey Marine Exploration after filing this story. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram to see how that turns out.
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