A HUGE treasure hunt is to be launched to find the wreckage of a “cursed” galleon which went down carrying billions in gold, silver and precious gems.
Spain and Mexico have agreed to join forces to search for the legendary Nuestra Señora del Juncal, which sank in a storm nearly 400 years ago.
In May, underwater archaeologists will begin a 10-day search for the Juncal[/caption]
It disappeared to the bottom of the ocean in October 1631 after setting sail with its fleet from Veracruz, on the east coast of Mexico, bound for Spain.
However, many sailors feared the galleon was already doomed as its commander died just 24 hours before it was due to set sail.
It then left dock even though reports from the time reveal it was already taking on gallons of water.
One witness said the vessel was so damaged she “spit bolts” and survivors later said she sank “in the time it takes to say a prayer”.
After battling a fortnight’s storms, cutting the main mast and tossing cannons overboard in a desperate bid to lighten the ship, the crew could do no more.
Of the 300 crew just 39 survived by climbing into a small launch as the mighty galleon disappeared beneath the waves.
In May, underwater archaeologists will begin a 10-day search for the Juncal – which was carrying an incredible haul of loot which had evaded pirates for decades.
Its multi-billion pound treasure was destined for Spain to help to cover the expense of the Dutch War of Independence.
The long-running and costly conflict was a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces of what are today the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg against Spain.
The Juncal was one of the two flagships of the Spanish treasure fleet transporting the riches of America to Seville during the reign of Philip IV.
She was loaded with more than a million pieces of gold, silver and precious stones, much of it taken as tax, amounting to between 120 and 150 tonnes.
In 2014, Spain and Mexico signed a memorandum of understanding on their shared underwater cultural heritages to avoid conflict over more than 300 wrecks of Spanish ships lying in Mexican waters.
“It is a unique opportunity to develop a major joint research project,” Iván Negueruela, the director of Spain’s National Museum of Underwater Archaeology, told the newspaper El País.
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“We have 20 years ahead of us to investigate a deposit that could yield 150 tonnes of historic material.”
The testimonies of the dozens that survived the maritime disaster have helped give the approximate location of her final resting place.
The ship carried money to pay the personnel of military garrisons in Havana and Puerto Rico, as well as dyes, textiles, leather, precious wood, cocoa and herbs.