11 Biggest Shipwrecks in History That Lost Millions
Since man took to the seas, ships carrying everything from gold to coins to valuable trade items have been lost. A small fraction have been recovered, but total recovery is and always will be an impossible task.
Here are some of the biggest (and most valuable) shipwrecks in history that never made it to their destinations. In other words, there's still treasure to be had.
Flor de la Mar
Year sank: 1511
The Flor de la Mar, a Portuguese carrack, sank in a storm off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. It was carrying loot from Malacca, which had just been captured by the Portuguese.
Its exact location is still unknown, but when the ship went down, 400 men went down with it. It is believed to have had a hold full of precious gems, gold and other riches.
Attempts to locate the wreck have not been without controversy — Portugal, Indonesia and Malaysia all claim salvage rights. No wonder — its treasure is said to worth about $3 billion today.
RELATED: 30 of the Most Valuable Shipwreck Treasures Ever Found
Year sank: 1594
Portuguese carrack Cinco Chagas was said to have held a whopping 2,000 tons of treasure when she met her watery demise during the Anglo-Spanish War.
Her maiden voyage was just a year before, and the young ship was doomed as soon as she sailed. She was overloaded when leaving Goa, India, and while she was in Mozambique, it was discovered she was already in bad shape. In June 1594, she caught fire and sunk during the Battle of Faial Island.
Her wreckage — and two-dozen treasure chests of diamonds, rubies and pearls — are still located off the coast of the Azores to this day.
Nuestra Señora de Atocha
Year sank: 1622
The Nuestra Señora de Atocha was a Spanish galleon that sank off the coast of Florida. It was part of a fleet of 28 ships that was carrying treasure from the New World to Spain. But on Sept. 4, 1622, the fleet encountered a hurricane. The ships attempted to weather the storm, but many of them were damaged or sank.
The Atocha was carrying a large amount of treasure, including gold, silver and precious gems as well as tobacco, indigo and other items. The wreck was discovered in 1985 by treasure hunter Mel Fisher. While much of the treasure has been recovered, there is still a significant amount that remains lost at sea.
Year sank: 1641
The Merchant Royal, a British merchant ship, sank off the coast of Cornwall, England, after encountering a severe storm. While the crew and passengers survived, the ship's cargo, including gold, silver and other valuable commodities, never made it. It is believed to have been one of the most valuable cargoes ever lost at sea, although the exact value is unknown.
Despite several attempts to locate and salvage the treasure over the years, it still remains in the watery depths of the ocean.
Year sank: 1679
Dubbed the "Holy Grail" of Great Lake shipwrecks, Le Griffon (Griffin) was the first sailing ship to traverse the Great Lakes. It was built and owned by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle.
The ship sailed the Niagara River to Lake Ontario, passed through Lake Erie and made her way to Lake Huron. It got close to Lake Michigan when trouble struck. The crew of six, who had a cargo of furs, were determined to make Mackinac Island, but they never did.
It is said Native Americans warned the crew not to sail into Michigan due to high winds from a storm, but they ignored that warning. It's also alleged that the crew mutinied, stole the cargo and scuttled the ship, but no one knows for sure.
While many treasure hunters and maritime historians have claimed they found the wreck, its whereabouts remain unknown.
The Spanish Treasure Fleet of 1715
Year sank: 1715
The Spanish Treasure Fleet of 1715 was a convoy of ships that sailed from the New World to Spain carrying valuable cargo, including gold, silver and other precious items. Unfortunately, a severe hurricane struck the fleet off the east coast of Florida in July of that year, causing most of the 11 ships in the fleet to sink.
More than 1,000 people died in the disaster, and the cargo that was lost is estimated to be worth more than $400 million in today's currency. Some of the fleet's treasure has been salvaged, but much of it remains lost to the depths of the sea.
Year sank: 1717
The Whydah was a pirate ship that sank off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was carrying a large amount of treasure, including gold and silver coins, when it sank.
On April 26, 1717, the ship encountered a powerful storm; it eventually struck a sandbar and began to break apart. Many of the crew members made it to shore, but most of the loot was lost.
The wreck of the Whydah was discovered in 1984 by underwater explorer Barry Clifford. Since then, many artifacts and some of the treasure have been recovered from the wreck, but much of it is still underwater.
Year sank: 1838
Menkaure's sarcophagus was discovered in 1837. It belonged to the the builder of the third pyramid of Giza, Pharaoh Menkaure.
It was was being transported to the British Museum in London when the ship carrying it, Beatrice, sank in a storm after leaving Malta.
Despite several attempts to locate and salvage the sarcophagus over the years, it has never been recovered.
Year sank: 1909
The RMS Republic was an ocean liner that sank off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts. The SS Florida, a smaller coastal steamship, collided with the Republic in thick fog. Fortunately, there were no fatalities in the collision.
The ship was carrying a large amount of gold and other precious metals as well as cash and securities. The total value of the cargo is said to be worth well over $100 million today.
In 1981, Marex, a salvage company, recovered a small amount of the gold and other artifacts from the wreck, but the majority remains lost.
Year sank: 1912
Most everyone knows the story of the Titanic and its many objects that have been retrieved from the wreckage over the years. But there are still plenty of personal possessions and valuables that went down with the ship. Further excavation of the site is highly regulated. In 2001, UNESCO declared the Titanic a protected site, meaning that any treasure hunters and looters without authorization to get up close to the ship face prosecution.
A variety of valuable items are said to have been lost and have never been retrieved — among them are a jewel-encrusted copy of "The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam" (an 11th-century book of poetry), a 1912 Renault Type CB Coupe De Ville, five Steinway grand pianos and countless pieces of jewelry owned by the first-class passengers.
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SS City of Cairo
Year sank: 1942
British merchant ship SS City of Cairo was sailing from Bombay, India, to the United Kingdom via Cape Town, South Africa, during World War II when it was hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat. It sank in the South Atlantic, about 480 miles off the coast of St. Helena.
The ship's cargo included 100 tons of silver and more than 2,000 gold bars as well as other valuable items such as diamonds, rubies and sapphires. The precious cargo was being transported to Britain to help finance the war effort.
Many attempts have been made to recover the lost treasure. In the 1950s, a salvage company named Deep Sea Salvage recovered some of the silver from the wreck, but most of the treasure remains lost at sea.