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Experts to use underwater robot to explore historic shipwreck 

Spain has launched the third expedition to the wreck of Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes.

It has been organised by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, in partnership with the National Scientific Research Council, the Spanish Institute of Oceanography and the Spanish Navy.

This will be the third exploration of the sea depths to examine the condition and evolution of the wreckage and its cargo since Spain won a court case against the treasure-hunting company Odyssey.

This expedition, under the terms of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, is based on institutional cooperation at national and international levels, and represents a fine example of Spain’s scientific and technological ability to protect its underwater cultural heritage on the sea bed in international waters.

The objectives for this latest expedition are: to increase knowledge of the wreck, mainly the condition of material and its evolution; to record the dispersion of the remains of the frigate; to continue locating all archaeological remains; and to further examine and analyse the ship, as well as complete the cartography of the area in which the shipwreck lies.

For the first time, the Sarmiento de Gamboa Ocean Research Vessel – one of the research vessels managed by the National Scientific Research Council via the Marine Technology Unit – will be used to complete this work. This vessel is considered one of the most modern and best-equipped in the ocean research fleet funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry and Competitiveness. The cuttingedge equipment to be used in the archaeological expedition include a remote-controlled underwater robot owned by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography.

In the two previous years (August 2015 and September 2016), Spain successfully completed a high-depth (1,133 metres) underwater exploration and excavation, making it a global pioneer. Until then, the deepest underwater archaeological excavations carried out in Europe had been at depths of no more than 90 metres. Other immersions using an ROV have reached several hundred metres but have been limited to photography and filming of the depths.

Knowledge has always been the priority for these expeditions, aimed at guaranteeing the present and future conservation of the wreck given that it is a piece of global cultural heritage.

Both the first expedition in 2015 and the second in 2016 measured the variables that could affect conservation of the wreckage: salinity, cu-rrents, and natural biological or geological changes in the environment, among other things. An archaeological map of the frigate and its cargo was also created, defining the location and exact position of several hundred objects of archaeological interest.

A total of 51 objects were raised as part of these studies, which were chosen due to a risk of being lost forever either due to their fragile nature or their location. This also allowed aspects of life on board the frigate to be documented, thereby enrich-ing current knowledge.

These objects include: an 80cm bronze swivel gun; a mortar and its gold pestle; a silver candlestick; two candelabras, a large bowl, plates, forks and knives – all silver. They can all be found at the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Cartagena today. All the objects raised are expressly listed in documents of the Archivo General de Indias [General Archive of the Indies], in Seville, with which Spain resolves any question over the definitive identification of the wreckage of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, which sank on 5 October 1804.