Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Could next big find be the El Salvador?


The Daily News
By Patricia Smith
May 08, 2006

BEAUFORT — A Florida-based research company thinks they might have found a long-lost sunken treasure ship off the North Carolina coast.

Aqua Gems of the Treasure Coast has applied for a dredge and fill permit with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management to excavate a couple of sites off Cape Lookout it believes could be the El Salvador.

Both pottery and wood samples from the site date to the correct time period, said Aqua Gems owner and president Rik Luytjes.

“We actually found the whole hull structure,” Luytjes said.

However, Richard Lawrence, head of the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the N.C. Division of Archives and History, cautioned that there have been many ships that have gone down in that area.

“To say that they have found El Salvador, it’s too soon to say that,” Lawrence said.

And Phil Masters, president of Intersal, another research company that has been looking for the shipwreck, noted there are three different companies that claim to have found at least part of El Salvador.

“Nobody’s found a coin yet,” Masters said.

Masters has zeroed in on a site in Beaufort Inlet near what is believed to be the wreckage of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which his company also located in 1996.

The El Salvador would certainly be worth finding.

According to historical records it was carrying 16 chests of silver and four of gold when it went down in the area of Cape Lookout during a 1750 hurricane. A conservative estimate would put the value at $124 million in today’s money, Masters said.

That makes El Salvador one of the richest shipwrecks to be found along the American East Coast, Masters said.

“North of Florida, there’s nothing like El Salvador,” Masters said.

The Spanish merchant ship was one of a fleet of vessels traveling from Colombia to Spain when it was pushed ashore between North Carolina and Maryland during the August 1750 storm.

Some historical references say the El Salvador went down near Topsail Inlet (Beaufort Inlet was known as Old Topsail Inlet at the time), and other accounts put the wreck near Cape Lookout, Lawrence said.

The other ships sustained varying degrees of damage, but their crews and most of their treasures were saved, according to Intersal’s Web site. That was not the case for El Salvador.

Of the more than 30 people on board, only three sailors and a boy survived, according to Intersal. Within a few days, the shipwreck had been covered by sand.

Luytjes said his company has been researching and searching for the El Salvador for 10 years. Last year, the company resolved a legal case with Alan Reevy, the third party searching for El Salvador, that had kept it from working for a time, Lawrence said.

Aqua Gems has a state exploration and recovery permit which allows them to search a specific area around Cape Lookout for the El Salvador and collect samples of artifacts, Lawrence said. Should the company actually find the ship, it would be required to develop a proposal for excavation to be approved by the state, he said.

Under standard policy, the state would receive 25 percent of the value of the artifacts recovered, Lawrence said.

Luytjes said he hopes to begin excavation sometime this spring, but it will depend, for one on the weather and on getting the environmental permit.


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