Treasure-hunting drama in nearby waters

Seafarer Exploration believes a spot just off the coast of Melbourne Beach may hold one of the biggest treasures of all – an unsalvaged or “virgin” shipwreck site that evidence shows may contain part of the 1715 Spanish Fleet.

In the early hours of July 31, 1715, six Spanish vessels laden with treasure ran aground during a catastrophic storm. Five others faced the hurricane force winds and disappeared into the squall. Only one ship from the 1715 Plate Fleet (Plata is the Spanish word for silver) traveled ahead of the rest and survived the voyage.

Nearly 1,000 lives were lost in the calamity which occurred in the waters near Vero Beach, but the several hundred who did survive eventually got word back to the king, who was able to retrieve a vast amount of the treasure; however, millions of gold coins, silver and other artifacts remained, much of it found by treasure hunters over the years, giving the region its moniker as the Treasure Coast.

Seafarer CEO Kyle Kennedy, who also chairs the boar of the underwater exploration, recovery and conservation company, believes that if the shipwreck lies where he thinks it is, the discovery – rich with archeological significance and untold treasures – would make Melbourne Beach an integral part of the lost fleet’s history. Kennedy has spent endless hours personally researching the archives of 300-year-old documents, including survivor testimonials given to the king after the wreck, to assist in identifying the ship.

So far, evidence has shown that two artifacts found near the site – a silver inscribed platter and a Ramirez pistol – were aboard the Santisima Trinidad y Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, one of the five ships from 1715 Fleet that had disappeared in the storm.

The most recent unsalvaged treasure ship – the Nuestra Senora de Atocha – was recovered in 1985 by renowned salver Mel Fisher, about 35 miles off Key West. It carried 40 tons of silver and gold, and 71 pounds of emeralds.

Using four boats, including his primary boat – the Iron Maiden – for the salvage operation, Kennedy says most of the Melbourne Beach wreck could be uncovered over the next two years with the proper equipment.

“Sensitive archaeological work takes time,” Kennedy said. “Wrecks salvaged off the coast of Florida over 300 years ago continue to produce treasure even today.”

Kennedy has spent nearly $13 million on his work so far, but the possible treasures aboard an unsalvaged ship from the fleet could exceed $4 billion. Seafarer has an agreement with the state to give them 20 percent of the find.

“Seafarer’s operations will have a positive social, cultural and environmental impact for Melbourne Beach and its surrounding area,” Kennedy said. “Seafarer will actively be involved with educational institutions, public service organizations and government agencies.”

Melbourne Beach Mayor Jim Simmons is looking forward to seeing the results.

“I’m really anxious to see what they bring up, it’s an exciting operation, and I’m looking forward to see how they contribute to the community,” he said.

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