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Spain sounds warning to treasure hunters after ship relics recovered 

PAGE 16 SPAIN

The Spanish authorities have sent out another “clear warning” to treasure hunters after the third part of a government-funded expedition unearthed two 16th century cannons from the seabed.

They were recovered from a record oceanic depth of more than 3,000ft and come from the wreck of Las Mercedes which was sunk more than 200 years ago. Spain says this is an unprecedented success for global underwater archaeology.

The twin cannons measure four metres in length and are over 2 tonnes in weight each.

The expedition was organised by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, with the collaboration of the Higher Council for Scientific Research and the Spanish Oceanographic Institute, together with the Spanish Navy.

Other relics were also recovered, including a bronze griffin, a perforated copper sheet used as a ventilator and three bronze pulleys with wooden remains still to be analysed. “Work has begun on cleaning, desalinating, conserving and studying the remains recovered,” said a spokesman.

“All the pieces, together with those extracted during the expeditions in 2015 and 2016 from the remains of the Las Mercedes wreck, will be incorporated within around two years to the permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Submarine Archaeology in Cartagena.”

The Spanish Navy frigate was sunk by the British off the south coast of Portugal on October 5th, 1804 during the Battle of Cape Santa Maria. Its cargo included silver and gold.

The complex recovery operation was conducted with the help of an underwater remote operated vehicle.

The cannons were so heavy that special cables had to be used to raise them more than 1,130 metres to the surface. Both were embedded in the dirt of the seabed.

Spain says the expedition was carried out under the strictest of conditions and followed all international protocols to protect underwater heritage.

“The success of the three expeditions in 2015, 2016 and 2017 is a good example of Spain’s capacity at a scientific and technological level to protect its underwater heritage, even in the most difficult marine environments,” said the spokesman for the Spanish Government.

“So far no country had managed to carry out a systematic archaeological investigation on a shipwreck at more than 100 metres of depth, nor had managed to extract such heavy, large or small pieces. In both cases, technology and methodology was used that was extremely careful with the heritage involved.” “In addition, the excavation also issues a very serious warning to the large treasure-hunting companies that had so far worked exclusively on wrecks sunk at great depths with their high technology.”

This was 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 a private treasure-hunting company which found almost 500,000 silver and gold coins worth over 300 million pounds.

In 2012, following prolonged court cases, Spain won the rights to the treasure which was returned from the USA and is now on show in Spanish museums.