Europe’s oldest exploration ship probably found in Oman

EPA/FERNANDO VELUDO

The shipwreck was first found off Al Hallaniyah island in 1998 and excavated between 2013 and 2015

According to an interim report, Esmeralda, from Vasco da Gama’s 4th armada (1502-1503) is probably found in Oman


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A shipwreck excavated between 2013 and 2015 off an island in Oman is believed to be the oldest shipwreck from Europe’s age of exploration.

Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture is expected to officially announce the findings later today (Tuesday), confirming the great discovery. The shipwreck was first found off Al Hallaniyah island in 1998 and excavated between 2013 and 2015 by a partnership between the Ministry and shipwreck recovery company Bluewater Recoveries, with support from the National Geographic Society Expeditions Council.

According to an interim report published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, a detailed study and scientific analysis of an artefact assemblage recovered during the archaeological excavations propose that the ship is Esmeralda, from Vasco da Gama’s 4th armada (1502-1503).

Among artefacts collected are a Portuguese coin minted for trade with India – one of only two known to exist – and stone cannonballs engraved with what are believed to be the initials of Vincente Sodré, da Gama’s uncle and commander of the Esmeralda. “If this is indeed a wreck from da Gama’s 1502-1503 fleet, it will be the earliest ship from the Age of Exploration ever to be found and excavated,” National Geographic reported.

Esmeralda’s story

In March 1503, when Vasco da Gama’s 4th Armada was leaving India, two Portuguese ships Esmeralda and São Pedro, ordered to be left behind to disrupt maritime trade between India and the Red Sea.

According to Wrecksite website, the Sodré Brothers were in command of the Portuguese stationary fleet. The commanders decided then to leave the post and go for an easy plunder of the Arab Red Sea shipping. They did this successfully and captured 6 merchants.

On April 30th, 1503, the fleet was anchored off the Kuria Muria Islands, even though they were warned by the locals about a typhoon. 4 ships went to anchor of the south side. The brothers however decided not to move their ships.

A typhoon did happen and both ships, including the ship Esmeralda, lost their anchor and were smashed ashore. Vicente Sodré died in the shipwreck and his brother Bras died soon after in mysterious circumstances. Pêro de Ataíde, the newly appointed chief captain, was able to return to India with 150 survivors.

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