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Shipwreck from Vasco da Gama’s Armada Found off Arabian Peninsula

The ship is believed to be the Esmeralda, which sank in May 1503 after a tempest.

(Photo: Oman’s Ministry of Heritage)

A ship in explorer Vasco da Gama’s armada that wrecked in May 1503 off the coast of Oman has been recovered, the country’s Ministry of Heritage & Culture announced Tuesday.

The ship is believed to be the nau Esmeralda, captained by da Gama’s uncle Vicente Sodré. The ship, they say, was the oldest from the Age of Discovery to be found and excavated.

It was initially spotted in 1998, but it took over a decade for Oman to excavate the ship and sort through its contents. Some of the new findings are remarkable, like cannonballs etched with the captain’s name, and coins specially minted for da Gama’s voyage to India. 

One of those coins, Oman says, is extremely rare, with only one other known to exist. It is called the Indio, a “ghost” coin of Manuel I, the Portuguese king who financed da Gama’s trip. 

The Indio coin. (Photo: Courtesy of Blue Water Recoveries)

The nau Esmeralda was part of a fleet of at least a dozen ships that sailed to India as part of da Gama’s second, brutal voyage there, from 1502 to 1503. The nau Esmeralda is thought to have wrecked in a storm off the Khuriya Muriya Islands. 

“This project differs from the majority of maritime archaeology projects in that we set out to specifically find the wreck site of the Sodré ships, using a survivor’s and other historical accounts,” says David Mearns, who worked with the Oman government on excavating the wreck. These ships were worth the targeted search ”because of their very early age and the potential they held for new discoveries.”