Looking Back to 1985: Discovery of Spanish treasure galleon ‘Our Lady of Atocha’

Image of a bronze cannon salvaged from the Atocha.

Image of a bronze cannon salvaged from the Atocha. Credit: Wikipedia By Paul Hermans - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

2,000 editions ago, the Spanish galleon ‘Our Lady of Atocha’ was discovered off the Florida Keys.

At the time of her sinking – along with many others from the same fleet – during a hurricane on September 6, 1962, the ‘Nuestra Señora de Atocha’ was heavily laden with a cargo of around 40 tons of gold and silver. There was also copper, tobacco, gems, and indigo on board.

The ship went down approximately 30 leagues (140 km) from Havana, Cuba, with the loss of 260 sailors. Remarkably, five survived by climbing the mizzen, which remained above the water.

Where was the Atocha sailing from?

She was transporting this valuable treasure to Spain after being loaded at the ports at Cartagena and Porto Bello in New Granada (present-day Colombia and Panama, respectively), and Havana.

Named after the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Atocha in Madrid, the heavily fortified vessel was built in 1620 in the Cuban capital of Havana, at the request of King Philip IV.

The Atocha sailed at the rear of the 28-ship Spanish fleet, serving as the almirante (rear guard) to prevent an attack from the rear by other vessels.

Who found the sunken galleon?

Divers from an American commercial treasure hunting expedition led by the legendary deep-sea explorer Mel Fisher recovered most of the galleon’s wreck on July 20, 1985.

His discovery, estimated to be worth around $400 million, make the Atocha’s one of the most valuable shipwrecks ever found.

Following a lengthy court battle against the State of Florida, Mel Fisher’s Treasure Salvors, Inc. was ultimately awarded sole ownership of the rights to the treasure by the US Supreme Court.

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Written by

Chris King

Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at editorial@euroweeklynews.com