Another historic shipwreck found

A shipwreck found near the coast of Oman is believed to be the oldest yet discovered from Europe’s Golden Age of Exploration.  The wreck is believed to be the Esmerelda, a Portuguese vessel from Vasco de Gama‘s fleet that was lost near the island of al-Hallaniyah in a storm in May 1503.

Fortunately, the wreck’s relatively remote location seems to have prevented the site from being looted.

Some of the items recovered by Oman’s Ministry of Culture and Heritage are truly remarkable, including one of only two known examples of a silver Portuguese coin known as an Indio that was minted specifically for trade with India. 

This coin is so exceedingly rare it has become known as the "Ghost Coin" of Portuguese King Dom Manuel I.
This coin is so exceedingly rare it has become known as the “Ghost Coin” of Portuguese King Dom Manuel I.


The story of how this ship came to rest is not a pretty one.

De Gama, commanding a small fleet of vessels, detached five or six ships under the command of his uncle Vicente Sodre to patrol the Malabar Coast of India to protect the Portuguese traders and their allies.  But as soon as De Gama left, his uncle led the ships west to the Red Sea and essentially became a pirate, attacking Arab merchant vessels when he found them, and leaving the coast undefended.  In the spring of 1503 the fleet of six vessels anchored near the Khuriya Muriya Islands, of which al-Hallaniyah is the largest.  Locals warned the fleet that a large storm was approaching, and four of the vessels moved to the other side of the island to shelter from the storm.  But the two ships belonging to Vicente Sodre and his brother Bras stayed as they mistakenly believed that their heavy anchors would be enough to keep their ships in place.

They were wrong.  Both ships sank.  The four surviving vessels immediately returned to India.  The account written to the king by the new commander, Pero de Ataide, blamed Bras (who actually survived the shipwreck, at least for a while) for the disaster and was more sympathetic to Vicente, who went down with his ship.

Anyway, this is believed to be Vicente’s ship, the Esmerelda, not only because of the location but because cannonballs recovered from the site bear the initials “VS”, for Vicente Sodre.



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