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The Ministry of Culture has documented and located hundreds of ships that disappeared between 1492 and 1898, among them the Santa María and the naos de Cortés or Pizarro.
The General Subdirectorate of Historical Heritage of the Ministry of Culture has drafted the first inventory of Spanish shipwrecks in America. A total of 681 ships have been located in the Caribbean and correspond to the time period between the years 1492 and 1898.
All the information has been coordinated by the submarine archaeologist Carlos León, with the collaboration of his colleague Beatriz Domingo and the naval historian Genoveva Enríquez. They have used the Archive of the Indies and the Naval Museum, in addition to 420 ancient plans, to write this inventory.
The project follows the policy of the National Plan for the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage of Spain, and has been carried out under the principles of the 2001 Unesco Convention. The objective is not to locate the boats to extract them from the bottom of the sea, but protect them from possible looting or other damages.
The ships have been located specifically in the seas of Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Atlantic coast of the United States. A great help has been the detailed annotations of the officials, who accompanied the armies and the fleets and took note of each expedition.
The country with the largest number of archaeological remains of these ships is Cuba, with a total of 249, followed by the Atlantic coast of the United States, with 153, which, in addition, were the islands of pirates, and Antigua Florida , with 150. However, in Panama, for example, only 66 shipwrecks have been located.
“The Spanish ships were fearsome, they were heavily armed and could carry dozens of guns,” said Carlos León, an underwater archaeologist.
According to Carlos León, 92.1% of shipwrecks were caused by weather causes and 1.4% by battles with rival countries, while only 0.8% is due to pirate attacks: “The pirates’ thing is more legend. The Spanish ships were fearsome, they were heavily armed and could carry dozens of guns. They gave more fear to the pirates than vice versa. “
In the inventory made by the Ministry of Culture the location of the remains, the name of the ship, type of ship, name of the captain, crew, passengers, armament and cargo are collected.
Among the boats that have been located, there are some very well known, such as the nao Santa María, which was also the first to sink into American waters. On the part of Christopher Columbus this ship was lost, in addition to others like the Vizcaína in Panama. Also noteworthy are the two caravels of Vicente Yáñez Pinzón or the two naos of Juan de la Cosa and Núñez de Balboa.
The specialists of the General Subdirectorate of Historical Heritage prefer to call this inventory a map of the submerged cultural heritage, since it has been limited to the sinkings in the Caribbean and the Atlantic coast of the USA, and there is still to be investigated the Pacific, the Atlantic South or Philippines.